Two Myths And One Truth About Congressional Testimony

Testimony is only the tip of the iceberg - there's much more opportunity if you look a little deeper. (Photo credit: Natalie Lucier via Flickr)

You’ve just hung up the phone after a call with a Congressional staffer. After a wide-ranging conversation and some probing questions, the staffer invited you to be a witness at a Congressional hearing. You’ve even got the official letter signed by the Chair of the Committee.

Now what?

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Know Thy Role (And Thy Bias)

Be clear about your role your bias when ytalk with a decision-maker

Last week, Erica shared a quotation by Stephen Schneider that lays out three simple guidelines for scientists who want to share their knowledge and perspectives with the wider world: Know thy audience. Know thyself. Know thy stuff. As Erica explained, we use this quote during our policy and communications workshops to start discussions about roles scientists can or should play in policy dialogues. We teach that knowing your audience – the first point – is fundamental to effective communication. I want to delve into the second point: Know thyself. One facet of this is knowing what role you play when you’re talking to decision-makers, and how that shapes your own bias.

Since I naively showed up in D.C. with my freshly-minted PhD, I often find myself dispensing this advice: Before you sit down at the table with decision-makers, be clear with yourself about your role in this world. You don’t have to start from scratch – check out some of the many insights and frameworks already out there to help you think through what your own role is. Otherwise, you could find yourself wasting a lot time in unproductive conversations, or worse, putting yourself in a very uncomfortable position. [Read more…]

Know Thy Policy Audience

Mark Nechodom (left), Director of the California Department of Conservation, starred in masterful role-playing scenarios for Switzer Environmental Fellows at the COMPASS policy and communication training on October 5th. He's depicted here at a 2012 conference, signing a Memorandum of Understanding, with Jim Kenna of the Bureau of Land Management, to coordinate operations in California for oil and gas industry oversight.

“Know thy audience. Know thyself. Know thy stuff.”

We offer this quote by the late Steve Schneider in COMPASS’ communication trainings as a guiding principle for scientists preparing to share their science with the wider world.  Schneider, one of the first climate scientists to work as an active adviser to policymakers in the White House and federal agencies, passionately believed that scientists have a social responsibility to communicate what they know and that “staying out of the fray is not taking the high road, it is just passing the buck.” His messages to scientists both challenge and inspire.

But there’s a lot of nuance in learning how to communicate effectively with policymakers. Chad delved into this issue in his recent post, “A Policymaker Walks into the Forest.” But I found myself thinking more deeply about Schneider’s first instruction, “Know thy audience,” as I prepared, earlier this month, to lead a COMPASS communication and policy training for Switzer Environmental Fellows at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. [Read more…]

Link Round-Up- Shutdown Edition

Hello link round-up readers! Thank you for visiting us on Fridays to check out what we at COMPASS have been reading, listening to, and chuckling about. The government shutdown is in the news all around us this week, which makes it a fitting time to let you know about a shutdown of our own. Unrelated to the goings on in the federal government, COMPASS’ Friday link roundup will shut down this fall. Our blog will remain vibrant as ever, so please continue visiting our new posts on Mondays and follow our @COMPASSonline tweet stream throughout the week for up-to-date communications on what we’re reading.

Check out the links below to explore what the government shutdown means for science. [Read more…]

Budget Trade-offs: A Zero-Sum Game

Once the budget subcommittee has decided on their 302(b) sub-allocations, the battle for dollars becomes a zero-sum game.

PHOTO BY CHAD ENGLISH.

Should this dollar go to the NSF or to the FBI? It can’t go to both. You have to respect the people who make that decision.”

David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council made this comment in front of a full room at the AAAS annual meeting last month (you can find paraphrases of this comment in the Twitter stream, Storified here). This is a very real choice, and it’s being set up right now through the federal budget process. There are thousands of people on Capitol Hill this week trying to make the case for their programs including probably hundreds of scientists and science supporters.

The seemingly endless budget and spending and sequestration noise coming out of D.C. can seem overwhelming and tedious. With sequestration threatening even the annual White House Easter egg roll, the budget rhetoric in D.C. remains heated and the gridlock seems complete. The President still hasn’t released a budget proposal for 2014 and now isn’t expected to until next month (despite my earlier prognostication). But for Congress, the budget process is marching on, and the tradeoff David described is getting set up right now.

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Embracing Change To Stay Relevant

Juliet Eilperin interacts with scientists at a COMPASS training. She recently announced she'll be leaving the environment desk to cover the White House for the Washington Post.

I once heard healthy organizations are constantly changing. This means effective leaders are not only agents of change but are also change managers. As the Executive Director of a science communication organization, this philosophy has become a mantra for me as I strive to keep our organization healthy. Because we operate at the nexus of the quickly moving worlds of science, media and policy, recognizing that embracing and adapting to change is the norm means that it’s OK that this is part of our daily work too. Embracing change has liberated me. [Read more…]

Finding The Science Signal In The Budget Noise

Flying Money

Most of us have had our fill of the “fiscal cliff,” are glad that we’re (technically) past it, but dread the next round of this fiercely political debate. In the midst of this – in two weeks time – the President is supposed to present his proposed budget to Congress and the next federal budget cycle will start. That’s been delayed, but not likely by more than a few weeks. Most people who don’t live inside the Beltway are blissfully ignorant of this incredibly complex and sometimes convoluted process, although it can have real bearing on their lives. In addition to the obvious implications for science funding, scientific conferences are reportedly feeling the direct effects of federal budget limits. After eight years inside the Beltway, I still learn something new about the federal budget every year. [Read more…]

12/7/12 Link Round-Up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

For this week’s link roundup, we’re offering a dose of planetary and environmental perspective. At COMPASS, we’re all about seeing things in new and different ways in order to find new connections across scientific disciplines, and the ways in which science can be used to inform policy. In the spirit of the season, we offer some different big picture views of our world and how we interact with it: [Read more…]

Field Notes: Reflections From The Policy Front Lines

The 2003 Knauss Fellows interviewed for this post in 2003 with then-NOAA Admiral XXX, clockwise from top left: Barbara Piechel, Rachel Feeney, Bridget Ferriss, and Sunshine Menezes.

When Chad and I prep scientists to participate in policy briefings, we often share our own experiences of entering the policy arena for the first time as Knauss Marine Policy Fellows.  Chad talks about finishing his dissertation on a Friday in 2005 and showing up the following Monday in the Senate Commerce Committee, bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and expecting to bring the latest scientific discoveries to members of Congress. Only then he discovered that Congressional offices don’t have direct access to journal articles (or even read academic papers). I tell scientists about the time I spent on the Hill in 2003, helping to draft bill language for reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House Committee on Resources – I was suddenly expected to be an expert on marine mammals and on how to write arcane legislative language… neither of which were part of my actual skill set at the time.

Chad and I have both incorporated insights from our Knauss fellowship experiences into our current work with COMPASS at the intersection of science and policy. When COMPASS does communications and policy trainings for scientists, we talk about the idea that understanding these cultural differences is the key to making effective connections between the two worlds. I’ve been especially curious to hear what others experienced when they stepped out of science and into the policy world, and since it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my fellowship in the Subcommittee of Fisheries, Oceans, and Wildlife in the House Committee on Resources, I decided to ask some of the other legislative fellows in my cohort.  Through a brief series of questions, I asked a few of them about the lasting take homes they see from their fellowship experience, how it has shaped their worldview, and to reflect on what they saw as key differences between the culture of science and the culture of policy. [Read more…]

Opportunity In Seat 7D?

Have the middle seat blues?  You never know where a conversation with your neighbor could lead.
Photo courtesy of evoo73 via Fickr.

Last Sunday, in the sleepy pre-dawn hour, Meghan Miner and I caught a cab to Boston’s Logan airport to fly home from the one-day communications workshop that COMPASS held for the east coast Switzer Fellows. Though we were groggy and not terribly talkative ourselves, we couldn’t help being drawn into a conversation started by “Dave the tattooed cab driver,” as he called himself. [Read more…]