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...]

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...]

About Us: Heather Mannix

newzealand

COMPASS has welcomed a number of new folks to our team recently, and so we’re reviving our “About Us” series to introduce them. This week’s focus is Heather Mannix. Heather is our Science Engagement Specialist, and the author of a recent blog post on the role of boundary organizations.

At COMPASS, Heather works to connect science and scientists to relevant policy conversations. Heather’s experience working with U.S. and international policy motivated her to work for an organization that bridges the boundary between science and policy. She says, “I saw firsthand the value that science had for policy decisions but also that there are times when the mechanisms to share science can fail for reasons unrelated to the quality of the information – you really do need a guide to navigate the boundary. Learning this motivated me to work in a way that recognizes how important the mechanisms are, and that those opportunities to share science have to be well crafted.”

More about Heather …

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Lessons from Leopold (Part I)

woman network node

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...]

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...]

A Policymaker Walks Into The Forest…

Helping policymakers to navigate a topical landscape – the forest and the trees – can make scientists trusted resources for decision-making.

Photo courtesy of Bart Busschots via Flickr.

A recurring challenge for scientists talking to policymakers is finding the match between the details that the scientist focuses on and understands, and the details that the policymaker needs to make their decisions. I often see scientists struggling to calibrate their message to the right level of specificity. Missing the mark on this can kill an otherwise promising conversation, but more importantly, increases the probability that you will squander real opportunities to become a trusted resource. [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...]

Plastic Pollution: Scientists Engaging to Make a Difference

Plastic pollution litters a beach in Welgelegen, St. Maarten.

Photo courtesy of Fabi Fliervoet via Flickr Creative Commons.

Persistent plastics pose problems for the planet. (Say that five times fast!) While many groups and organizations have been working to document and combat the problem, it wasn’t until recently that several scientists took a bold step. By identifying a gap between existing science and outdated policy, the scientists were able to suggest a policy change that might really help the persistent plastics problem. By labeling some plastics as hazardous, they said, society will be forced to look at, manage, and treat plastics differently.

Behind this argument lies a story of two scientists – Ph.D. candidate Chelsea Rochman of UC Davis and Postdoc Mark Anthony Browne of NCEAS– and their journey of engagement and outreach that may ultimately help change the way that international and federal agencies approach the challenges of debris in the environment. [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...]