Balancing Act: Finding A Place For Policy Engagement

balance2

Academics are hearing the message loud and clear that society needs what they have to offer. In Nicholas Kristof’s recent provocative column, “Professors, We Need You!,” he admonishes professors not to “cloister yourselves like medieval monks,” but at the same time, acknowledges the real challenges posed by “a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.”

At COMPASS we often hear a sincere desire from scientists to make their work relevant in societal dialogues. But we also hear that the nature of many academic jobs often makes that engagement an add-on, rather than an integral part of their workload and process for review and promotion. As Chad wrote in his last post, scientists can learn how to make the most of the time they spend engaging, honing their skills to maximize the value they can bring to policy dialogues once they’ve begun. But the problem remains, how do you balance expectations of academic culture with the time it takes to make a valuable contribution in a policy space? [Read more…]

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?

[Read more…]

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…]

Is “Cold But Competent” A Problem In Science Communication?

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 4.25.02 PM

 This post continues our series focused on science communication research. Instead of reporting on or recapping a single paper, we’re asking what the literature has to say about urgent or recurring questions in our field. This is inspired, in part, by John Timmer’s call for an applied science of science communication. 

A flash of insight can be profoundly pleasurable. For me it’s a little pop that’s the mental equivalent of clearing my ears while diving. Sharing that same electric sensation with hundreds of others in crowd? Then the pop feels more like a champagne bottle, with our individual ‘aha!’s spiraling outward as a fizzy wave of tweets. At the Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication, Susan Fiske of Princeton University uncorked one such shared moment in her presentation about beliefs and attitudes regarding science when she began speaking about warmth and competence. [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…]

On Advocacy And Trust In Science

As I noted at the end of Monday’s post, I did not directly tackle the question of whether scientists’ advocacy has been shown to damage public trust in them (or their science). [Read more…]

What The Science Tells Us About “Trust In Science”

This post continues our series focused on science communication research. Instead of reporting on or recapping a single paper, we’re asking what the literature has to say about urgent or recurring questions in our field. This is inspired, in part, by John Timmer’s call for an applied science of science communication, as well as the upcoming special issue of PNAS with papers from the 2012 Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication.

When climate scientist Tamsin Edwards published her editorial “Climate scientists must not advocate for particular policies” in The Guardian, it triggered a cascade of responses on engagement and advocacy. This is something COMPASS spends quite a lot of time thinking about and discussing in our trainings and writings, but the line that particularly caught my eye was: “I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral.”

I admire the conviction in that statement and it’s nothing if not clear. But is it true? Is the behavior of individual scientists a primary driver of public opinion? It reminds me of a conversation regarding our assumptions about audiences, in which my friend Ben Lillie quipped: “Communicating science to the public? Neither noun exists and I’m not sure about the verb.” Given the current conversations, I am not so sure of our use of the phrase ‘trust in (the) science’ either, so I decided to do a little digging. [Read more…]

Looking Beyond The Business Card

Synergy

COMPASS needed to investigate how they might contribute at the boundary of science and business, so naturally they needed someone who knew about synergy – an MBA intern! As a master’s candidate in environmental sciences and business management, I felt well positioned to help COMPASS investigate what they’ve been hearing for awhile now – an unmet need at the intersection of science and business. [Read more…]

True Leadership Takes Risking Being Yourself

Reflections of the Gallatin Mountains in the pond at the B-Bar Ranch, Emigrant, Montana. 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Hardy.

How do you gain leadership skills as a scientist? Although common elsewhere (particularly in the for-profit world), leadership training is almost non-existent for scientists. The Leopold Leadership Program and COMPASS trainings are notable exceptions. And unfortunately, like science communication, leadership skills are not part of graduate training (but perhaps they should be). Recently, I accepted a generous invitation to strengthen my leadership skills through TREC, courtesy of the Wilburforce Foundation. It was a transformative experience that has left me with new insights and much food for thought.

When it comes to leadership, many of us fall into the trap of trying to be like someone else. We ask ourselves, “How can I inspire like Jane Lubchenco or speak out like Stephen Schneider?” Pick your heroes. But the point is, these are the wrong questions. Being a leader isn’t about being like someone else. Instead, it’s about finding your own voice and being who you are. There’s no single way to be a leader. [Read more…]

5/31/13 Link Round-Up

We’re big proponents of social media on the COMPASS blog. In addition to touting the benefits and how-to’s of Twitter, one of the unique aspects of social media are the conversations and discussion that can be sparked and carried out on a large scale entirely online. This week there were several such examples, rounded up below, along with some other interesting finds: [Read more…]