“Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda” NAS Event & Webcast, Tues. Jan. 10: Preview Q&A With Dietram Scheufele

Dr. Dietram Scheufele. Image by WiD / Christof Rieken; CC BY-ND 3.0.
The National Academies Report: “Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda” is an important new contribution to the science of science communication.
“Everything we know about communicating science is changing, from the types of value-laden questions that new science raises to rapidly changing ways of disseminating and sharing information online. And a key challenge is to understand that.” —Dietram Scheufele

The NAS Committee on the Science of Science Communication, chaired by Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus of AAAS, and vice-chaired by Dietram Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin, is hosting a public discussion on Tuesday Jan. 10 in Washington D.C. at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST to share the new report and its implications, and to offer an opportunity for questions and conversation. The event will also be webcast. You can view the webcast here, and follow along on social media with #NASEMscicomm.

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Recognizing Brooke Smith: Realizing The Vision And Finding COMPASS’s Niche

Brooke Smith and Vikki Spruill at the 2016 COMPASS Staff Retreat.

Vikki Spruill, author of this post, sits on the COMPASS Board of Directors and is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.

Fifteen years ago, Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State University), Chuck Savitt (Island Press), the Packard Foundation, and I all sat together discussing the need for science to be better connected to the rest of the world. We had all come to this table from different paths: a scientist committed to ensuring that her knowledge and that of her peers did more than just sit on shelves and in journals; a publisher working to ensure complex ideas were accessible and relevant to the world; a conservation and science change-maker working to support efforts so that environment and society can thrive together; and me, a communication professional who knew just how important—yet how hard—it was to get scientists’ voices elevated in the media and policy worlds. We collectively wanted the same thing: for scientists to be effective communicators and to be supported to navigate their way to relevant and meaningful people and conversations. This vision would become COMPASS. [Read more…]

Race, Power, Equity, The Institution Of Science, And Change.

Program from the Lewis M. Branscomb 2016 Forum on Environmental Justice, Science, and Democracy

This fall I received an invitation to attend the Branscomb Forum on Environmental Justice, Science, and Democracy. My first thought was “I’m too busy to travel to another meeting….” I was questioned by a friend, “do you even work on democracy and social justice, I thought you did science communication?” I could easily have justified not attending this meeting. But my gut spoke to me; don’t we all work on democracy and social justice? I reflected on the inequity, racism, and fundamental divides that surround us in our society and in our research institutions. I reflected on the stream of passive-aggressive Facebook comments I read earlier that day (and throughout this entire election season), none of which involved real listening or real conversation. I thought about my own privilege, and the fact that if I chose to not go to this meeting or do anything differently in my life I will still be safe, protected, insured, employed. But if we all just keep doing the same thing, is anything really going to change? What am I—as a professional, a mom, a citizen, a white person—going to do differently? One thing I can do differently is put my privileged idea of busy-ness aside, go new places, meet new people, and learn new things. I couldn’t not have time for this meeting. [Read more…]

Finding My Place In Science

Annaliese Hettinger

At COMPASS, we encourage scientists to share ‘why’ they do what they do, in addition to sharing their science. This week’s post is by Annaliese Hettinger, a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon State University, a Science Communications Fellow at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and a science writer. We’ve crossed paths with Annaliese a number of times – we helped her prepare to engage with decisionmakers on Capitol Hill, and she was a panelist for “Engaging with the Wider World: True Tales Told Live” at the 2016 Ecological Society of America Conference. We’re excited to share her story here. [Read more…]

COMPASS Transitions: Looking Back to Look Forward

Brooke Smith

Fifteen years ago, I sat in Jane Lubchenco’s office at Oregon State University asking for career advice. Jane’s office is a reflection of her – full of accomplishments and warmth. There are stacks (and I mean STACKS) of manuscripts and journals around the office, awards both on the walls and piled up on top of each other, pictures of her family (by blood and by lab genealogy), and keepsakes from Africa to the Arctic. Even though Jane’s reputation intimidated me (and still does), she was warm and welcoming (and still is).

I wiped my sweaty palms on my legs, took a deep breath, and said, “I would love your career advice.” Here was my privileged dilemma – I was considering two great job offers. I could accept a prestigious Knauss Fellowship in Washington D.C. for a year, or I could accept an advocacy position at an ocean conservation non-profit.

I asked Jane what she thought I should do. She listened intently to my rambling and reasoning. Then, of course, she asked a question. This is something that we teach at COMPASS – to listen; ask; listen; share. Even if you (especially if you) already have an opinion, listen first. Her question was simple: “What do you want to do?” After a heavy sigh, my response was: “I’m unsure exactly what IT is.” I went on to explain how I love science. How I love the environment. How I love to connect people and ideas, think big, and try new things. How my previous work experiences in Washington D.C. helped me understand the public policy process and culture – including the surprising lack of science at the table during decision-making. I didn’t feel like either of these job opportunities were the right choices for me. I wanted to find a way to bring in the science, but in a way that made it relevant to all these people, audiences and communities – policymakers, NGOs, the world… but where could I do that?

Jane said, “Let me tell you about this thing a few of us are starting called COMPASS.”

She explained the frustration she and other leaders in the science, communication, policy, and philanthropy worlds felt around the disconnect between scientists and the real world, especially on ocean issues. “What we know about how oceans work, how they are changing, and the benefits and consequences of those changes,” she explained, “is not reflected in how people think about oceans or in our policies and practices.” We went on to discuss how scientists were not well equipped to get out in the world and talk with people about what they know. In fact, sometimes they are even discouraged from doing so. We also discussed how there were not enough efforts to elevate knowledge instead of institutions – and how co-founder Vikki Spruill was working to address this in the social sector, and bringing her innovative thinking to science communication. COMPASS was born as an experiment – a way to help scientists fulfill their social contract. I wanted in.

I started with COMPASS that week. Four years later, I became the first Executive Director. And at the end of this year, I’ll be leaving, secure in the knowledge that COMPASS is stronger and more vital than ever.

That’s because over the past fifteen years our mission has only grown more needed and our work has only grown more impactful. Our vision and goal: to help more scientists to get out in the world and transform, frame and accelerate critical conversations about the environment. Our shared belief: that scientists should have a seat at the tables where public agendas about the environment are set and advanced, but they need help getting there and being effective once they are. Our core competencies: training scientists, and connecting scientists to influencers of the public discourse. Our amazing team: we all love science, and especially scientists. We care deeply about the environment. We want to make a difference. We thrive on thinking big, making connections, and generously supporting others.

The COMPASS team

The COMPASS Team – our biggest asset in supporting scientists to engage in the world.

We found our ‘special sauce’ in our collective experiences in policy, science, media and communication, which blend together to inform our work and help us achieve our mission. We continue to tweak and update our recipe – evolving and changing in response to the world around us. And, wow, the world certainly has changed. We used to have to motivate scientists to get out into the world. Now, scientists want to engage. The research about science communication has exploded. New media channels are dismantling old information sources. The political pendulum has swung back and forth, and players have come and gone. And our environmental challenges – from climate change to water availability to ocean acidification – have become more urgent.

In response to these changes, we expanded our scope beyond ocean science to include water, fire, climate, energy, ecosystem services and other scientific topics about the environment. We developed ways to help scientists and journalists meet and learn from each other. We pioneered new ways to reframe scientific conferences to be more relevant to the world, by hosting journalist fellowships or including policymakers as part of these conferences. We’ve created space for scientists and policymakers – from the White House, to Congress, to state legislatures – to share, discuss, and learn from each other. We’ve created communities of confident scientists prepared to engage around topics like fire, ocean acidification, or marine protected areas. And with partners like the Leopold Leadership Program, the Switzer Fellows, the Wilburforce Fellowship and others, we’ve empowered new cohorts of scientist leaders.

As we navigated the rules of scientific engagement, our organization evolved too. We began as a project incubated at Island Press and then SeaWeb. We started with a single funder, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, that not only shared our vision, but was willing to invest in the long term to give us space to try, learn, and grow. Now, we are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit with a diversified revenue portfolio, including both foundation grants and earned revenue. Our budget grows each year. We’ve built a strong operational, financial and administrative base, ensuring that our inter-disciplinary team is supported to do its great work.

We teach a lot of things in our training sessions; one important lesson we teach scientists is to push themselves to a place of discomfort – that’s where we all learn and grow. So, after 15 years at COMPASS, I’m taking our own advice – and pushing myself to a place of discomfort. My decision to step down from COMPASS at the end of this year was a hard one and an emotional one. In some ways, I could happily stay at COMPASS forever – the people, mission and work embody that hard-to-define “IT” that I was searching for in Jane’s office years ago. Being able to leave an organization during a time of strength is all too rare. I’ve learned it takes strength to do it. I’m proud to have been part of building and defining what this experiment has turned into. Some recent personal events, though, have starkly reminded me that life is short. I believe in new experiences; there’s still much for me to learn, try, and do.

Someone recently said to me, “I can’t imagine COMPASS without Brooke.” I can, without hesitation. COMPASS is stronger and more needed than ever. The opportunities for continued success and growth are enormous. The team is a remarkable collection of intelligent, innovative, and passionate people. We get more requests for our services than we can handle. We have ideas and opportunities waiting to be pursued. We have money in the bank and committed donors. Our board – a remarkable combination of scientists, communicators, and political appointees (Democrats AND Republicans) – is engaged and ready to help COMPASS transition to its next leader. I can imagine COMPASS without Brooke, but it’s a bit harder for me to imagine a Brooke without COMPASS. I’m both nervous and excited (“nerve-cited” as we say at COMPASS) to figure out what that looks like.

My first order of business will be to give my husband and two amazing daughters, who have had to share me with COMPASS for many years, my full attention over the holidays and the New Year. But after that? Much like fifteen years ago, I don’t know exactly what “IT” is – but I know it’s going to continue to be about my love for science and scientists, connecting them to society, facilitating changes that allow for more scientists to engage, and working toward a world where both environment and society can thrive.

Our search for COMPASS’ next Executive Director begins immediately. We’re looking for someone passionate and energetic, aligned with our mission, and eager to lead COMPASS as it continues to grow and support more scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment. The Board has retained Explore Company to serve as our search partner. Click here for more information, including a job description and Explore Company’s contact information.

Meet a Wilburforce Fellow: Aerin Jacob

Aerin Jacob, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from 2015, the first cohort, are sharing their experiences; to learn more and apply to be in the 2017 cohort, click here.

Aerin Jacob is a Liber Ero Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Victoria. Trained as an ecologist, she works with managers and Indigenous communities on marine and coastal planning in British Columbia, Canada. [Read more…]

Andy Hoffman: Science Communicators Or Science Mediators?

Pew Research Center, January 29, 2015, "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society"

We are excited to re-post this blog by Andy Hoffman. Andy raises questions about the role of scientists as mediators, not just communicators.  Andy’s post helped us dive deeper into the importance of listening, not just being right, and we hope it sparks new thinking and fresh perspectives for you. 

Andy Hoffman is a professor at the University of Michigan, researching institutional theory, corporate environmental strategies, organizational theory, and cultural and institutional change. He is a 2011 Leopold Leadership Fellow, an alum of COMPASS trainings, and a leader in thinking about how scientists can fulfill their “social contract” (see the proceedings from his forum on academic engagement). This blog was originally published on the Leopold Leadership 3.0 blog on June 22, 2016.  It is reposted here with the permission of the author.

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Scientists And Journalists: Two Sides Of The Communication Coin

Amy (with Nancy Baron) at our 2015 Staff Retreat.

A few years ago, in one of my science writing classes at Johns Hopkins University, a guest speaker shared one of her most regrettable moments as a science journalist. She was a writer at the respected magazine Science News, and several years previously had covered a high-profile paper published in a top journal. Dutifully, she included in her story some of the figures from the paper that captured the essence of the findings. Only later did she (and others in the scientific and journalism communities) learn that those figures contained an error – one that obviously had slipped past the peer reviewers. She was mortified. “I should have checked the math myself,” she told the class. Printing something that was untrue was one of the worst sins she could have committed in her view; even though she had accurately reflected the findings published in the peer-reviewed paper.

As a new student in science journalism – after a long career in environmental science and policy – the incident was a revelation for me: I realized how much scientists and journalists are alike. Accuracy is critical to both them, and it forms the cornerstone of their professional life, namely, credibility. [Read more…]

Stories, Science, And The Sea: Sharing At IMCC

A little over a year ago, eight scientists stepped out of their comfort zones and took to the stage to share a piece of their worlds. Without leaving a dark auditorium in Glasgow, we were transported to a fish spawning site in Australia, a night dive full of glowing plankton in the Philippines, a reef rescue mission in the Seychelles and a lionfish hunt in the Caribbean. We heard of the experiences that inspired a scientist to start a non-profit organization that raises awareness of the importance and vulnerability of fish aggregations, and how another scientist gained the trust of local fishers to get a more complete picture of the community and ecosystem in which she was working.
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COMPASS 2015 Retreat

The COMPASS team

This week, the COMPASS staff is meeting up in Baltimore for our retreat. We’re practicing what we teach in our trainings – using the Message Box, figuring out our thinking styles and how they work together, working on our elevator speeches, and preparing for another year of supporting scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment!

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