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…]

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.

Coaching, Community-Building, and Communication Confidence: How Our Trainings Help Scientists

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,

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been sharing stories from the 2015 Wilburforce Fellows about the role the fellowship has played for them over the past year. If you’re considering applying to be a 2017 Wilburforce Fellow, we hope these stories have motivated you to get started (remember, applications are due by this Friday, September 30!). If you’re considering hosting a training or fellowship, we hope these stories inspire you to explore how to make that happen. Individually, they are powerful arguments for the value of training scientists to communicate; collectively, they’re a call for more scientists to have the kind of opportunity the Wilburforce Fellowship provides. More people telling their stories, and more opportunities for scientists to participate in trainings and support networks, can contribute to the culture change many of us are seeking – one in which scientists are supported and empowered to get out into the world and engage. [Read more…]

Applications Open For The 2017 Wilburforce Fellowship In Conservation Science

Click here to download PDF.

The Wilburforce Foundation and COMPASS are excited to announce that applications are open for the second cohort of the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science.

The fellowship, which was designed to establish a supportive community of conservation scientists to effectively communicate their decision-relevant research, will begin in 2017. Fellows will participate in a six-day training in science communication, leadership, and engagement, and will receive support and coaching to reach their conservation goals throughout the fellowship year. The new cohort of fellows will join the 2015 fellows in building a network of skilled conservation scientists ready to contribute to action around conservation issues and solutions. [Read more…]

Calling Canadian Journalists! NACCB 2016 Journalist Fellowship Update

Please click here for a downloadable version of the flyer.

We are pleased to announce that Canadian journalists will have an additional opportunity to apply to attend the North American Congress for Conservation Biology 2016 (NACCB 2016) in Madison, WI. The deadline for Canadian journalists to apply has been extended to May 1, 2016. [Read more…]

Tessa Hill: We need to talk (about science)

Inscription on the wall of the National Academies Keck building, Washington, D.C.
This post was originally published on Medium on March 9, 2016. It is re-posted here with the permission of the author.

Tessa Hill is an Associate Professor at University of California, Davis studying ocean biogeochemistry. She is a AAAS Public Engagement Fellow and teaches courses on oceanography, climate science and science communication.

I recently offered a course at UC Davis on Science Communication (specifically targeting Ocean, Climate, and Environmental Science) with a genuinely exceptional group of graduate students. During the course, we hosted eight outside experts working in communications, policy, and media to chat with our class. We also read an excellent book, used available online resources (this, and this for example), pored over several examples of great #SciComm, practiced mock interviews and policy briefings, and even recorded our own in-class podcast. When I look back at recurrent themes and advice, what just kept popping to the surface? Read on. [Read more…]

NACCB 2016 Journalist Fellowship

Panelists from the 2014 NACCB Opening Plenary 'Conservation Tapas: Small Bites of Big Issues'

We are very pleased to announce that COMPASS will be supporting travel fellowships for journalists to attend the third biennial North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB) in Madison, Wisconsin this July. The theme for this conference is Communicating Science for Conservation Action, and will emphasize the need for effective communication across communities and fields of practice in conservation science. The 2014 NACCB conference drew over 1,000 participants to Missoula, Montana for field trips, symposia, trainings, workshops and short courses. [Read more…]

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!

[Read more…]

Want To Affect Policy Change? Board Your Train Of Opportunity

Are you ready to climb aboard? Image by Joe Ross, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Like increasing numbers of your colleagues, you want your science to contribute to a better world. You want to make a difference. But you’re not quite sure how to get started, and navigating the black box of the policy world can be a daunting prospect. The public discourse about the environment is teeming with opportunities for scientists to weigh in. Trains of opportunity may be passing you by. Time to pack your bags and hop aboard!
[Read more…]