Report from the SEARCH Knowledge Exchange Workshop, September 25-29, 2017

[Download this report as a PDF]

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, with implications spanning all defining characteristics: sea ice, land ice, permafrost, and cold-adapted communities and ecosystems. The observed changes in the Arctic are resounding, the resulting connections to the globe are increasingly clear, and the science community has an important role to play in supporting action. Researchers must gain skill and confidence in communicating their research effectively and remain responsive to emerging questions from policymakers, decision-makers, and journalists. During September 25-29, 2017, scientists hosted by the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) spent a week in Washington, DC to focus on communicating the societal implications of Arctic change.

The week began with a two-day workshop led by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting (University of Rhode Island), an organization focused on training both scientists and journalists in approaches to more effectively communicate science to policymakers and public audiences. Following the workshop, participants fanned out across Washington DC to brief the Senate Arctic and Ocean Caucuses on Capitol Hill, convene a panel of Arctic researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Headquarters to discuss the “Global Implications of a Thawing Arctic”, hold individual meetings with several Congress members from coastal states to discuss sea level rise, and participate in a panel at the Woodrow Wilson Center on “Arctic Environmental Futures: Nexus of Science, Policy, and Operations”.

The SEARCH Sea Ice Action Team led the planning and coordination for the Knowledge Exchange Workshop and many of the follow-up activities, yet participants from across the broad SEARCH community, including from the Science Steering Committee, Permafrost Action Team, Land Ice Action Team and the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS), were critical to the week’s activities. This report details these events and the associated outcomes (participant feedback is also included in the PDF version of this report).

 Arctic science policy roundtable at the Woodrow Wilson Center

Arctic science policy roundtable at the Woodrow Wilson Center

Knowledge Exchange Workshop & Communication Training

Workshop Overview

The SEARCH Sea Ice Action Team, in partnership with the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting (University of Rhode Island), led a two-day Knowledge Exchange Workshop to guide participants through the process of synthesizing and communicating their science to effectively engage policy- and decision-makers and the media. Participants were encouraged to come prepared with a draft science communication product relevant to their work, for example, a science brief, article for the broader public, or a presentation for policymakers. The Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS) hosted the workshop in their Washington, DC office location at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

On the first day, Dr. Sunshine Menezes (Metcalf Institute Executive Director), who facilitated the workshop, had one overarching theme to her presentation: To effectively reach new audiences with your science, you need to not only think about clear communication, but also be strategic and thoughtful about your engagement, which includes a dedicated effort to listen and ask questions that open the door for two-way discussion. Dr. Menezes led participants through a range of topics, including:

  • Applying lessons from recent science communication scholarship to improve outreach and engagement efforts;
  • Identifying your audience; and
  • Developing clear and concise messages using message boxes.

Lisa Friedman, a journalist from the New York Times, shared perspective on preparing for media interviews, building positive relationships with journalists, and pitching stories to the news media. Additionally, participants joined Lisa for brief mock interview exercises to highlight simple strategies to maximize the likelihood of a productive interview and an accurate published story. When engaging with journalists, one should strive to be accessible (journalists often operate on very short timelines), tell compelling stories, and be aware of one’s critics. A better story is often told by showing what the science is up against and how it achieves importance despite caveats, assumptions, and counter arguments.

Dr. Whitley Saumweber from Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions discussed the art of engaging policymakers within the context of the day-to-day life of those on Capitol Hill and across the Executive Agencies.

The second day of the workshop was devoted to peer-feedback and discussion around how to structure and improve many of the participant’s in-progress science communication products. For example, Brendan Kelly (SEARCH Executive Director) gave a dry-run of a presentation planned for policymakers and Congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Participants offered detail feedback and suggestions that were then incorporated prior to the actual presentation to the Senate Arctic and Ocean Caucuses on Capitol Hill later that day.

Journalists Ricardo Sandoval-Palos (Inside Climate News) and Arianna Skibell (E&E News) joined to offer their insider perspectives on what makes a good science story. Their suggestions and feedback were used to focus and improve six short panel presentations that were delivered later in the week at the SEARCH Panel at AAAS.

Results and Outcomes

  • Over 25 SEARCH Scientists and other workshop participants (see the list of participants in the PDF version of this report) were coached on how to communicate their research effectively, respond to emerging questions related to policy, and appeal to the interests of journalists looking to share science with the public.
  • Participants had the opportunity for peer-to-peer communication and feedback regarding their research, its societal implications, and approaches for distilling their message down the most important aspects for non-technical audiences.
  • The two-day workshop provided an opportunity for joint in-person preparation for the week’s various follow-up engagement activities, which collectively reached more than 140 individuals representing policymakers, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, the media, foreign embassies, academic institutions, and other organizations.
  • Several SEARCH scientists made new connections with journalists and media outlets as a result of the workshop, some of which continued into the following months.

Congressional Briefing & Office Visits

On September 26, SEARCH was invited to brief the Senate Arctic and Ocean caucuses, where over 30 participants represented both caucuses; three other Senate committees; 9 members' offices; the Navy's Oceanography, Space and Maritime Domain Awareness Directorate; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The briefing covered topics ranging from the state of Arctic fisheries, recent declines in Arctic sea ice coverage, contributions from Greenland ice sheet melt to rising sea levels, the permafrost carbon feedback, and connections between Arctic warming and mid-latitude weather patterns. Brendan Kelly (SEARCH Executive Director) delivered a single encompassing presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer discussion between those attending and a select group of participating experts. This included Marika Holland (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Judah Cohen (AER Inc.), Twila Moon (National Snow and Ice Data Center), Ted Schuur (Northern Arizona University, and Courtney Carothers (University of Alaska Fairbanks).

SEARCH followed up with visits to the 9 other Congress member offices in September and October. These meetings were two-way exchanges in which SEARCH was able to convey up-to-date scientific information, and the congressional staff shared suggestions for increasing SEARCH’s future effectiveness in addressing policy.

Arctic Science Panel at AAAS

On September 27, SEARCH organized a scientist panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Headquarters focused on Global Lessons from the Thawing Arctic. The expert panel presented on current observed changes in the Arctic, connections to policy, and key uncertainties for envisioning the future. The presenters and topics included:

  • Lawrence Hamilton (University of New Hampshire) - Moderated and provided introductory comments
  • Christina Schädel (Northern Arizona University): Global Greenhouse Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost
  • Ted Scambos (National Snow and Ice Data Center): Loss of Land Ice in the Arctic: Fast and Getting Faster
  • Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University): The Arctic Meltdown and Unruly Tropical Storms: Are They Connected?
  • Henry Huntington (Huntington Consulting): Does the Arctic Lead or Follow?
  • Elizabeth Marino (Oregon State University): Threats to Local Arctic Communities: Lessons for a Global Audience
  • Amy Lauren Lovecraft (University of Alaska Fairbanks): Imagining the Arctic of 2050 to Inform Actions Today

The panelists collectively spoke for 45 minutes, followed by another 45 minutes of Q&A with the audience. Approximately 50 peoples attended including those representing The Associated Press, The Arctic Report/North Star Group, Science Magazine, American Anthropological Association, American Meteorological Society, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, National Science Foundation, the Norwegian embassy, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program, U.S. Coast Guard Polar Rulemaking Team, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Global Change Research Program, U.S. Geological Survey, and many academic institutions. The priority audience for the panel was the media. While only a few journalists actually attended, the event was successful in reaching a diverse audience from across the federal agencies and other Arctic stakeholder communities.

The panel presentation was web-streamed live as the first-ever "Go Live" stream on the SEARCH Facebook page, and has since received more than 150 views (as of Nov 22, 2017). The archived video is available here.

Arctic Science Policy Roundtable at the Woodrow Wilson Center

On September 29, SEARCH partnered with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Polar Initiative to host a panel titled Arctic Environmental Futures: Nexus of Science, Policy, and Operations. This included leading Arctic scientists, policymakers, and emergency response officials to present and discuss the most recent research on Arctic change, extreme weather, Indigenous communities, and emergency response operations. The experts addressed how Arctic environmental futures affect science, policy, and operations in this region and beyond, and how can scientists and policymakers work together to define and answer the most pressing questions arising from rapid climate and environmental change.

The panel included:

  • Moderators: Michael Sfraga (Director, Polar Initiative & Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks) and Rafe Pomerance (Chairman, Arctic 21 & Senior Arctic Policy Fellow, Woods Hole Research Center)
  • Speakers: Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University), Sherri Goodman (Senior Fellow, Polar Initiative & Former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense), Henry Huntington (Huntington Consulting), Brendan Kelly (Study of Environmental Arctic Change), and Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich (retired U.S. Coast Guard & Former Deputy Administrator of FEMA)
  • Respondents: Amy Lovecraft (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and Ted Scambos (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

The event was attended by approximately 60 people including from the Climate Reality Project, Embassy of Canada, Institute of the North, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, National Geographic Society, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Journal, The Office of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, Udall Foundation, U.N. Environment Programme, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, World Wildlife Foundation, and other organizations.

The archived webcast is available here.