Why Did The Scientist Cross The Road?
During the past few weeks I had the opportunity to attend two conferences that had related themes and took place literally across the street from each other, but in other ways were worlds apart. First was the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting (#ESA2014), which was dominated by ecological scientists sharing their research. The following week, government officials, land managers, city planners, and NGO representatives met at the first ever California Adaptation Forum (#CAF14). While both conferences explored the possibility of finding solutions by forging new connections, there was still clearly a gap between those talking about the latest research on one side of the street and those trying to figure out how to implement it on the other. Like many scientific conferences, ESA2014 was both exciting and overwhelming as I balanced reconnecting with familiar colleagues, getting to know new science and scientists, and speaking on a panel about measuring success in science communication. In particular, I was on the lookout for efforts to bridge gaps between disciplines and communities. Along those lines, here were a few highlights: • Connecting ecology & business: Maria Hartley (Chevron) and Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer (Natural Capital Project) did a fantastic job of talking explicitly about how ecological researchers and corporations can work together towards more informed decision-making. I have to say that being a Chevron employee at an ecology conference is a bit of a brave act—and one that I hope both communities continue to welcome. • Connecting climate change, fire, and drought: As I tweeted from the conference, the relationship status among these three topics is “It’s complicated”, but one session did a great job of outlining what we know and what’s next with a collection of the funniest and most engaging speakers at the conference (several of whom attended the COMPASS fire workshop in April). • Connecting scientists to the wider world: From a pre-conference workshop to sessions on boundary organizations and science communication to a lunchtime panel on science-policy, the theme of scientists engaging beyond the scientific community ran throughout the conference. There was also an active Twitter presence (#ESA2014) and at least a few journalists in the mix.
Energized from ESA2014 and the many examples of scientists forming new partnerships, the following week I crossed the street to attend the California Adaptation Forum. Although there is incredible momentum for climate adaptation action in California, there is also a clear disconnect between the academic research community and those making on-the-ground decisions. As the forum progressed, I increasingly wished that many of my scientist colleagues who had been at ESA2014 could be at this meeting as well. Because of this, I was on the lookout for ideas on how to better connect these two communities. Here are a few that rose to the top:
• Suggestions from several at the conference that funding for academic science require engagement with policymakers and managers from designing the research to applying the outcomes (including in a session titled “Shaking the Couch Cushions”, which gives you a sense of funding availability). • A lively lunchtime discussion I organized around the question ”How can science be better connected to adaptation action?” included talk about the importance of building trust and relationships between scientists and those needing science to apply to adaptation efforts. • Throughout the conference there was frequent mention of the communication challenges that arise from how and where scientists most often share their work—and the need to support both communication skill building and opportunities for researchers. This isn’t to say that there weren’t any scientists present at the California Adaptation Forum—I was glad to meet ones who worked as consultants (mostly engineers), at non-profit organizations, and for government agencies…but the largely academic science community that had been across the street just the week before talking about many of the same issues was almost entirely absent. I think there is an incredibly ripe opportunity for academic scientists to engage with policymakers and local managers—particularly as climate adaptation discussions in California are poised to move from being focused on planning processes and vulnerability assessments to implementing action. Perhaps by the time there is a second California Adaptation Forum, more of my colleagues will join me in crossing the street. Until then, I’d love to hear from more academic scientists who have successfully bridged the gap between research and climate adaptation action. At least in California, there are plenty of ears eager to hear your stories…
Image CC BY-SA-NC-SA by Khaz on flickr. Dr. Heather Galindo worked at COMPASS from 2010-2015. This post was transferred from its original location at www.compassonline.org to www.COMPASSscicomm.org in 2017.