Wilburforce Training: The Heart Of The Matter

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle. From Left to right: back row- David Malakoff, David Mildrexler, Ben Alexander, Chris Parish, Matt Williamson?, Michael Quinn, Brian Harvey; middle row- Michelle Nijhuis, Sergio Avila, Nancy Baron, Melissa Lucash, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Matt Williamson?, Jeff Burnside, Aerin Jacobs,

Something magical happened at the first training for the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science two weeks ago. Once again, storytelling revealed its power to inform, to inspire and bring together a group of people focused on a common cause.

The fellowship originated with Amanda Stanley, the Wilburforce Foundation’s Conservation Science Program Officer. When she approached COMPASS to partner with her and Wilburforce and help design the fellowship, we leapt at the chance. Our shared dream is to build a network of conservation scientists who can successfully bridge the science-to-society gap by being strong communicators, leaders, and agents of change. We not only want them to connect to their science in new ways, we want to them to connect to each other, so they can support each other in the inevitable ups and downs that come with tackling big challenges.

[Read more…]

Farewell To Chad English: A Pioneer At The Science-Policy Interface

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellows training in Seattle.

We like to think that our work speaks for itself, through the scientists we train, the communities we build, and the conversations we spark. As coaches, connectors and enablers, we are intentionally and happily behind the scenes. We prepare, support, and cheer for the researchers on the front lines to share their scientific insights with the world. This week I want to focus on one of our behind-the-scenes champions – Dr. Chad English, whose last day here at COMPASS was May 1st. He pioneered our work at the science-policy interface, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

[Read more…]

Your Science Is A Multi-tool

Science can be a multi-tool within the policy process; understanding what function your science is serving can make engagements more effective.

Science plays many roles in the policymaking process. Describing those roles is often harder than I expect.  While attending the North American Congress of Conservation Biology (NACCB) in July, I was introduced to a new – and helpful – description of those roles, during a talk by Stephen Posner. Stephen is a PhD candidate at the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont. Like COMPASS, the Gund Institute works at the boundary between new knowledge and emerging solutions to pressing environmental challenges. Much of their work takes place through the lens of “ecosystem services”, a way of thinking about how people’s needs, desires, and actions relate to the natural world upon which we all depend. Stephen investigates how knowledge and understanding of ecosystem services is actually used in policymaking. [Read more…]

Why Did The Scientist Cross The Road?

Although crossing the road can be a daunting task, is it made easier by the company of colleagues, some infrastructure to guide the way, and the promise new opportunities on the other side.
CC BY-SA-NC-SA by Khaz on flickr

During the past few weeks I had the opportunity to attend two conferences that had related themes and took place literally across the street from each other, but in other ways were worlds apart. First was the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting (#ESA2014), which was dominated by ecological scientists sharing their research. The following week, government officials, land managers, city planners, and NGO representatives met at the first ever California Adaptation Forum (#CAF14). While both conferences explored the possibility of finding solutions by forging new connections, there was still clearly a gap between those talking about the latest research on one side of the street and those trying to figure out how to implement it on the other. [Read more…]

Connecting At NACCB

Our "Tapas" plenary is one of the ways COMPASS is looking to connect emerging science to  public discourse. Photo credit: Megan Dearden

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Director of Science Policy Outreach Chad English.

The COMPASS team is in Missoula, Montana this week for the 2014 North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB). Our plenary “Tapas” and the reception that followed kicked off myriad conversations between scientists and journalists. There were conversations about pikas and the Endangered Species Act, about endangered primates, as well as innovative efforts to engage stakeholders in discussions about what a changing climate will mean.

For us, conferences are about making connections: with people, with ideas, and between communities. One of our core activities is sleuthing new science, to identify ideas and insights that are not yet well connected to the public discourse, and brokering connections that can transform the conversation. Sometimes those connections are amongst peers. Sometimes those connections are with journalists. And sometimes they’re in the world of policy. [Read more…]

Looking Beyond The Business Card


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…]

8/2/13 Link Round-Up

Happy Friday link round-up readers! Before you head off to enjoy the weekend, check out our collection of good reads from across the web this week: Permafrost fires, a fish naming contest, (some) good news about a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and a time-lapse video depicting a disappearing lake. [Read more…]

Carpe Diem: Two Opportunities For Scientists To Help Shape Federal Policy

Image credit: msciba on Flickr CC-BY2.0

Academic researchers are keen to make their science relevant and to get it into the hands of those who can use it, like policymakers. But it is often hard for scientists to identify the right time and place to engage in a particular policy discussion.

For researchers who work on water, ecosystem restoration, climate adaptation, and ecosystem services, there are two opportunities unfolding right now. First, the White House wants input on the implementation of the newly revised Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies ­­­­– known inside the acronym-loving Beltway as the P&G. Second, the Department of Commerce is seeking feedback on the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. [Read more…]

5/24/13 Link Round-up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

We’re rounding the bend to Memorial Day and the kickoff of summer – it’s the season of long sunny days, spending time outdoors, and evening campfire gatherings with s’mores and storytelling. Karen McLeod recently attended a science writing workshop in Santa Fe and shared her experience learning the art of written story in this week’s post; she also included helpful tips for around the campfire and beyond. Here are a few of our favorite links this week: [Read more…]

Don’t Forget The Big Stuff: The Many Paths To Relevance


One of the more infuriating comments I hear all too often about academic scientists is that they’re irrelevant. Floating about in lofty clouds of superfluous knowledge, they develop layer upon layer of jargon and complexity about something with tangential applicability (at best) to the real world. Admittedly, that’s not exactly what I’ve heard, but that’s the gist. And, while this caricature may hold slivers of truth, it surely doesn’t describe most of the scientists I know. They are driven to make a difference in the world. They want their work not only to be cutting edge, but to also be relevant.

Many scientists hold a deep-seated fear that no matter how much they desire to make a difference, their science just might not matter. We struggle, asking, “What good is a biogeochemist, compared to heroism like that of the first responders during the Boston bombings?” (Do take the time to read that blog post, please. It moved me. I even left my first-ever comment.)

Recently, while giving a talk about the professional path I’ve carved outside of academia to women in science here at Oregon State, I was reminded of my own quest for relevance as a grad student. Writing a concluding paragraph in a manuscript to justify the real-world application of my PhD research just wasn’t cutting it for me. In my role with COMPASS, my contribution to what matters is to focus squarely on the big picture, synthesizing ideas, seeding connections among scientists, and ultimately forging stronger connections between science and policy. This is my path to relevance. But it’s just one of many. [Read more…]