Learning By Doing: Insights From Meetings With Decision-Makers

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The conference room this past Sunday was full of nervous excitement, tinged with the tiredness that comes from a long day. Chad English and I had just spent an afternoon with the Switzer Environmental Fellows, practicing and preparing for their meetings with decision-makers in the morning. It was the wrap up of a two-month process, and the first time that many of them had shared their research in the context of policy.  As the fellows filtered out of the room, we answered lots of questions, from complicated ones about the role of advocacy in science advising, to more straightforward ones about what to wear and how long it would take to get to the meeting.
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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…]

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…]

I Hear What You’re Saying, But….

At a recent training for Switzer Fellows, participants learned the value of active listening in being a good communicator.

This weekend, Erica Goldman and I traveled to a town outside of Boston to deliver a communications workshop for the 2012 New England Switzer Fellows. The fellows are in the midst of their graduate educations, and have diverse backgrounds – they are law students, representatives of NGOs, interdisciplinary and field scientists – all within the realm of environmental sustainability.

Like many of our workshops, our central message to the participants focused on the importance of understanding your audience when communicating your work. That includes formatting your work into clear and succinct messages, but it’s also about understanding the culture in which your audience exists, so as to make your work relevant to them and what they most care about… their “so what?” [Read more…]