Lessons From Leopold (Part I)

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As a scientist with an ever-growing list of responsibilities, you want to invest your time wisely in any activity you take on. Even as time becomes an increasingly valuable commodity, many of you manage to carve out a slice of that time to participate in policy dialogues. So, how do you invest that precious time wisely?

In previous blogs on policy engagement, we’ve talked about the issue of bias, the need to speak about your science at multiple scales, and the importance of understanding the decision-makers’ tradeoffs. But we haven’t yet talked about how to maximize the impact of your efforts.

Over the last several months we have had the privilege of working with a group of Leopold Leadership Fellows to jump-start their involvement in policy discussions. Working with the Leopold program, we developed a process to help each Fellow find their starting point for long-term policy engagement. Their experiences illustrate creative approaches to making your time in the policy space productive. [Read more…]

Reporting Back And Looking Forward From #GradSciComm

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This post is co-authored by Liz Neeley and Erica Goldman. It is a continuation of our series on our NSF-funded GradSciComm project.

It was approaching midnight on December 5, 2013, and the COMPASS team was running out of gas. We were in the middle of our two-day #GradSciComm meeting at the National Academy of Sciences. “The only way out is through,” we told ourselves, bleary eyed and punchy with fatigue.

Day 1 had gone quite well. Our stellar group of participants – science communication researchers, practitioners, administrators, and graduate student leaders from a range of STEM disciplines – had engaged with an enthusiasm that was more than we could have hoped for. They were brimming with ideas of what might be done. Yet we were struggling with how to coalesce all of the insights from Day 1 to move ahead in working groups on Day 2. One particular roadblock felt like it was obstructing every path forward: the lack of funding.

Around and around we went, until suddenly – a breakthrough! What would happen if we stop thinking of funding as a roadblock… and instead think of it as a solution to obstacles we face in teaching and conducting effective science communication? What are the first and most transformative investments that we could make? Once we demolished that roadblock, all the pieces began to fall into place. We powered through a synthesis of the discussions from Day 1, locked down the specifics for breakout group assignments, and were ready to charge into Day 2. [Read more…]

Building Infrastructures To Support Scientist Engagement

Courtesy of Chad English via Twitter.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Roundtable on the “Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences” (which I have the huge honor of serving on), convened a workshop to explore “The Sustainable Infrastructures for Life Science Communication.”  While our title is a mouth full, this topic is near and dear to my heart and COMPASS’ soul.

Our general premise: scientist engagement does not just happen. It takes work, support, policies, help, mechanisms, resources, and cultural acceptance, among other things. Additionally, there are barriers that make it challenging for scientists to engage – from lack of funding, to an antiquated promotion and tenure structure (at most institutions). With this in mind, our Roundtable members, invited speakers, and guests came together to explore all the things that help, support, allow, incentivize… and equally disallow or dis-incentivize scientists from engaging with various audiences or publics.

Day 1 of our gathering focused on sharing data and stories about these sustainable infrastructures for life scientists’ ability to engage. We had a full and intense day. I invite you to scroll through my Storify of  Day 1 of the Roundtable (also below) – to learn what was presented and discussed. [Read more…]

When Opportunity Knocks, What Leads COMPASS To A Yes?

COMPASS takes on new projects strategically in order to continue punching above our weight. Photo courtesy of C. Mario Del Rio via Flickr.

“COMPASS is an organization that punches above its weight class,” our new board chair, Mike Sutton, recently noted. I tend to agree. His perspective reflects an expectation of impact based on past performance as well as the target we want to hit. He’s also not alone. People often guess we’re an organization with a staff of 25 or more, not 12. Our topical expansion continues to open a plethora of new doors for COMPASS beyond oceans. And, as much as we’d love to go through all of them, we are a small team. If we want to continue to punch above our weight, we have to keep saying no to get to yes.

Like any organization lucky enough to be burdened by options, COMPASS has multiple filters to carefully consider new opportunities. We strategically blend our passion with what’s practical. The question is, then, when do we say yes? [Read more…]

#GradSciComm: Rolling Up Our Sleeves

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This post is co-authored by Erica Goldman and Liz Neeley.

As we’ve written here and here, over the past year, COMPASS has worked to assess the current landscape of communication trainings available to graduate students in the STEM disciplines. We’ve dubbed this project #GradSciComm, and it has included building a community-sourced database that provides some insight into the current content and capacity of workshops and courses – but this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Later this week, at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., four COMPASS staff – Nancy Baron, Brooke Smith, Erica Goldman, and Liz Neeley – will facilitate discussion among a select group of scholars, trainers, funders, institutional leaders, and graduate students as they consider the results of our work to date and wrestle with where we go from here. [Read more…]

Gratitude And Reflections From 30,000 Feet

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Through the whirr of the propeller, I have a gorgeous view of the California coastline. I can make out details of the land and seascapes below – Manzanita-covered mountainsides and purple-hued kelp beds as well as snow-covered peaks hundreds of miles in the distance. I’m on my way home from our annual COMPASS staff retreat in Santa Barbara. Our retreat is a chance to dig into the finer details of the landscape of our work, like sharing the innovations we’ve tried in our communications trainings this past year or the nitty gritty of how we allocate our time among different facets of our work. The retreat is also a time to look further afield at the broader landscape, capitalizing on the presence of our board. From this 30,000-foot view, the mountains that stand before us in the coming year are around long-term sustainability and growth – how to more effectively share our impact and diversify our funding portfolio. [Read more…]

Ocean Acidification: Science And Communication In An Era Of Nuance

Liz Neeley reminds scientists at the communication workshop to support each other and embrace constructive criticism when facing both scientific and communication challenges ahead. (Photo © David Kline 2013)

Since March 2011, I have spent a considerable amount of time with research scientists in the ocean acidification community – attending meetings, organizing conference symposia, prepping them for policy briefings, and leading them through communication workshops. In this time, I’ve seen the breadth of research and number of scientists working on ocean acidification increase dramatically. This expansion has led to an “era of nuance,” as we noted after last year’s international gathering of 400+ ocean acidification scientists. The stark cases of how ocean chemistry impacts US West Coast oyster hatcheries now stand side-by-side with discoveries of more complex effects on marine species and what this means for things people care about (e.g. fisheries, coastal protection, cultural traditions). But what stands out is that even with this growing complexity, the community has confronted the hard scientific questions head on AND tackled the tricky communication challenges with equal enthusiasm and commitment. [Read more…]

Persuasion And Influence: Dirty Words In Science Communication?

Last week we shared insights from the National Academy of Sciences’ Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. The premise of this gathering was: if we rely on evidence for our research, why do we rely on hunches to communicate it? With this in mind, the organizers assembled a stellar group of scientists who shared data about how people process information, which is all immediately useful in effective communication and engagement. While I shared my summary of take homes last week, I wanted to also share something else the organizers did brilliantly. By bringing in speakers from business, network thinking, and consumer choice theory, they pushed our thinking about science communication. People were equally as interested as they were uncomfortable. [Read more…]

More Than A Hunch: Insights From Sackler Colloquium On Science Of Science Communication

If scientists rely on evidence for their research, why do they rely on hunches when they communicate their research?

This was the challenge that framed the kick off of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. Known to many of us as #sackler, for three days last week, over 400 people gathered in person at NAS’ historic Constitution Ave building, while thousands watched and participated online, to engage in a discussion about science communication.

The Sackler Colloquium (captured on this short video) was a unique convening: 1 part scientists that study communication, cognition, attitudes and opinions, + 1 part practitioners of science communications (like us!), + 1 part scientists eager to communicate, + 1 part social media and network gurus, with a pinch of powerhouses from business marketing and public relations mixed in. Over the first two days, we heard from a hand picked group of scientists that study, measure and observe how we individually and collectively digest information, along with a hit-it-out-of-the-park group of experts in how information is transmitted and shared. [Read more…]

Tapas: Bite-Sized Ways To Design A Better Convening

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We’ve all been there. Stellar participants. A promising agenda. But within the first hour of the workshop, people to your right and left are already on their email or editing manuscripts. The first several speakers have gone over their time limits, so even the few minutes reserved for Q&A have evaporated. The moderator cancels all breaks to try to get back on schedule. People have been talking at you all morning. The speakers are unprepared, recycling content you’ve heard several times before, and each talk is completely disjointed from those around it. Your mind drifts to the many sacrifices, professional and personal, you made to be there. You are… once again… in workshop hell.

When it comes to planning convenings, we all make mistakes. COMPASS designs dozens of them a year – from interactions between a handful of scientists and Congressional staff, to trainings and workshops of 20 to 30, to mixers involving hundreds of scientists and journalists. And we’ve made (and will continue to make) our share of missteps. But, we’ve also celebrated many successes, reflecting a willingness to take risks and learn from our mistakes.
[Read more…]