What’s the Future of Ecologist-Communicators?
Aug15

What’s the Future of Ecologist-Communicators?

This guest post is by Holly Menninger, Director of Public Science for Your Wild Life at NC State University. Engage. Communicate. Reach out. Engage. Communicate. Reach out. These words echoed throughout the hallways of the Minneapolis Convention Center last week like a mantra. From organized symposia to high-energy Ignite sessions, ecologists both urged for and heard a rallying call to cross boundaries during this year’s Annual Meeting – to leave the ivory tower, to connect to policy makers, to connect to educators, to connect to resource managers, to connect to communities. The battle cry reached a crescendo in the standing-room-only Ignite session on Thursday afternoon: A Conversation on the Future of Ecology. Past and future leadership of the Ecological Society of America called on us to – in the words of our past president Steward Pickett – be fearless, to connect our science to society. I’ve been attending the ESA Annual Meeting since I was an incoming graduate student in 2000. More so than any time in the last 13 years, this year’s meeting in Minneapolis featured a sustained waving of rally caps in support of ecologists participating in public engagement, communication and policy, greater than I’ve ever witnessed before. In fact, I wildly swung my own rally cap during an earlier Ignite session about bridging the gap between basic and applied science – I spoke passionately about the lessons we’ve gleaned from building a successful science outreach and communication program about biodiversity. I suggested approaches that could enhance other scientists’ efforts to connect their science to the public, as required for addressing our planet’s grand environmental challenges. Continuing the drumbeat at the Future of Ecology session, there was a call for ecologists to learn how to communicate and to recognize that communication is not a one-way transfer of information. Agreed, I thought. But then, as I surveyed the room full of nodding heads, I felt something powerful well up in me. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t heartburn (although I did have Mexican food for lunch). It was more like that red-faced indignant feeling one gets when one is either deliberately or inadvertently ignored. I felt ignored because I sensed that many in the room (and those avidly live-tweeting the session) didn’t realize or recognize the awesome pool of communications and outreach talent already within ESA’s membership. The rallying calls for increased and improved science communication seemed aimed squarely at the Society’s mid-to-late career academic scientist crowd, a crowd that has long needed arm-twisting and cajoling to engage the public, not a group that had already embraced public engagement as a core value. I am a scientist-communicator. It’s my...

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Ecologists reaching out #reachingoutsci

  By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Since the earliest days of the Ecological Society of America’s existence (it’s 98 years old) ecologists have sought to share scientific information.  In the 1950s, the Society created a public affairs committee and its members actively engaged with federal policy makers on some of the key environmental legislation of the 1960s and 70s, like the Clean Water Act.  Thirty years ago, ESA opened its public affairs office in Washington, DC and began building connections and capacity for the ecological community to share ecological insights with policy, media, environmental and other communities. Press releases, podcasts, blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, congressional briefings , congressional visits, science poster sessions for Congress, and the USA Science Festival are among the ways in which ESA helps share ecology.  Since the mid-1990s, ESA has offered media and policy training workshops for ecologists and other scientists that provide how-tos and hands-on practice.  Members are also invited to contribute guest posts to EcoTone and share their work through our podcasts. An ESA policy guidebook for ecologists points to opportunities to connect ecological information to public policy issues and provides tips on effective preparation and communication during in-person meetings. ESA’s Graduate Student Policy Award recognizes young ecologists who have demonstrated their interest in contributing to policy. Recipients spend two days in Washington, DC, meeting federal agency and White House staff, learning about the policy process and participating in congressional meetings. Students gain a greater appreciation of policy-making and leave with new contacts and ideas for future policy engagement. A relatively new ESA initiative is the development of a speakers’ bureau to increase interactions with communities of faith.  Born out of the Earth Stewardship Initiative and championed by ecologists like Greg Hitzhusen, this collaboration with partners such as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment seeks to bridge historic divides and share ecological information with local congregations and environmental justice communities. In addition to outreach efforts facilitated through ESA, many ecologists are actively involved in their local communities, taking part in citizen groups, working with school children or advising a municipality.  Sometimes, the most meaningful types of engagement, but also the most difficult, are long-term efforts. Mark Brunson, for example, spent years facilitating a collaborative agreement that the end-user ignored.  But, as he said during a 2010 ESA policy workshop, “Twelve years later we’re better off in part because of the relationships built during that initial effort.”  As several of us noted in a Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  2010 editorial,  “True engagement means accepting that we do not control the outcomes of the process and that it...

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