Refining Your Message Box: Kathy Zeller Example

Kathy Zeller was a Ph.D. candidate focused on conservation biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst when she first worked on a Message Box with COMPASS as part of the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program, a leadership and communication training program funded by the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation. 

To identify a meaningful audience for her science, Kathy contacted people she knew in conservation groups. She learned that Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia was interested in developing legislation to address wildlife habitat needs, and arranged a meeting with two of his staff. Her first Message Box reflects her initial attempt to distill the science of conservation corridors for the Congressman and his staff in a way that would motivate action and guide the development of effective legislation.

Click on the boxes to see larger versions.

As you can see, Kathy’s Initial Message Box has a lot of detail.

But working on her Message Box prompted her to identify key information from the scientific literature that she realized the Congressman would be interested in, such as the amount of habitat lost each year and the costs associated with inaction. She got the staff’s attention, and that first meeting led to a lot of follow-up communication with the Congressman’s office. They asked Kathy for additional information, such as a summary of conservation benefits based on current scientific understanding. She worked to frame her material in ways that would resonate with the Congressman’s constituents by including information relevant to the Appalachian Trail that runs through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Several months after Kathy’s meeting with his staff, Congressman Beyer introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. The bill incorporated several key components that Kathy had outlined, including establishing a national database on protected areas and habitat corridors, and directing government agencies to work together to establish corridors. By then, Kathy had become a post-doctoral researcher at San Diego State University Foundation. She drew on her Message Box to craft a letter addressed to members of Congress that was signed by a dozen prominent conservation biologists, reiterating her main points and urging support for the legislation. And she worked with COMPASS to refine her Message Box further. Her Refined Message Box (above) distills the science further and frames it in ways that can engage a wide range of congressional interests, not just Congressman Beyer’s.

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