Farewell to Erica Goldman: Boundary Spanner Extraordinaire

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

By Karen McLeod

Since 2011, Erica Goldman has been a tireless spark of creativity and innovation for COMPASS—especially at the nexus of science and policy. She embodies the characteristics we value most within our team. She is humble, generous, supportive, passionate, dedicated, hardworking, entrepreneurial, willing to take risks, and multi-lingual (fluent in science, journalism, and policy). She thrives by empowering others—as a coach, convener, and champion for scientists. And she is an uber-connector—among ideas, individuals, communities, and cultures. Today, we celebrate her contributions to our work and to the world as our farewell.

I first met Erica in 2004. She had recently finished her Ph.D. at the University of Washington and was exploring unconventional post-doc opportunities that spanned science, journalism, and policy. COMPASS was hosting a meeting at Friday Harbor Laboratories to explore the concept of resilience in marine science, conservation, and management. We invited a pair of science writers to join us. Erica was one of them. COMPASS’ approach has always been to be anticipatory. Our dive into ‘resilience thinking’ in 2004 is a stellar example. Resilience would come to dominate the discourse around the environment for the next decade and beyond – from climate adaptation to disaster responses, on land and in the sea. However, at the time, this discussion about resilience, and especially the implications of resilience for management was new, and prescient of things to come. Erica recalls how energizing and inspiring the Friday Harbor meeting was for her: “I saw my own potential as a future connector – not only as a scientist, journalist, or a policy maker, but as a boundary spanner who helped build bridges between communities. I remember so clearly thinking how powerful convenings could be and marveled at how COMPASS could bring together the right people at the right time to plant seeds of a dialogue that could still take years to mature.” Fast-forward to 2011. Erica joined us first as our Assistant Director of Policy Engagement, and later became the Director. As Director, she oversaw COMPASS’ presence in Washington D.C., coaching and training hundreds scientists to effectively engage with diverse policy audiences, and leading our work to strategically connect scientists to the policy discourse around the ocean, ecosystem services, wildfire, western lands, and water. Erica is masterful at shedding light on how policy works to help scientists see how, when, and with whom to engage. Her knowledge and insight around ecosystem services and decision-making led to a temporary assignment in 2014–2015 to the White House Council on Environmental Quality—further deepening her cross-cultural competencies. She has also been a thought leader and champion for the roles of boundary organizations more broadly (including, but not limited to COMPASS) and contributed significantly to COMPASS becoming a leading practitioner in this space. Erica understands how to catalyze change in the world by building relationships and bringing people together for meaningful conversations at the right time. She has a keen eye for these kinds of opportunities and sees them everywhere. Each time she facilitated some kind of interaction – whether it was a 1:1 meeting between a scientist and policymaker or a more involved briefing or roundtable, Erica would be overflowing with ideas for new connections. And, she’d already have a vision for where those connections might lead. We fondly refer to these emergent ideas and pathways as 'spaghetti'. For example, a meeting with Senate staff revealed that a bulk of their questions around the implications of climate change for the ocean were social science questions—effects on people, communities, ports, and more. One possibility would have been to connect those committee staff with relevant scientists who could address their questions. But, Erica saw this as a larger opportunity. With colleagues, she designed the first COMPASS workshop where social scientists outnumbered natural scientists. This event transformed the ways that the scientists understood the relevance of their science to policy and helped policymakers understand the breadth of social science that could inform their decisions. The relationships, collaborations, and ideas born from this workshop will pay dividends well into the future, and we continue to explore how to most effectively support and position more social scientists to engage with policymakers. Noodling through these kinds of ideas with Erica and watching them come to fruition has been richly rewarding. We will surely miss her generative spirit. In mid-September, Erica will begin a newly created position as the Science Policy Director at the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE). In this role, she will build upon her experiences to help the more than 120 NCSE member universities and community colleges grow capacity and connections to improve the scientific basis of environmental decision-making. She shared with me that she’s most proud, not of specific events that she helped design or lead, but on the longer-term arcs of change she’s had the privilege to be a part of. Erica—the privilege is definitely ours. We will build on your legacy by continuing to support scientists to engage in the public discourse around the environment to accelerate the pace of solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges. Please join us in thanking Erica for all she’s brought to COMPASS’ work and wish her well on the next leg of her journey.


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