What I'm doing about this discomforting feeling is remaining involved with a program called the Study of Environmental Arctic Change that twists the letters around to arrive at the acronym SEARCH. SEARCH tries to maintain an Arctic focus, but when it comes to the issue of how Arctic glaciers and ice sheets are changing, there's no escaping the fact that the issue of sea level is global, affecting coastlines around the planet. In fact, on
SEARCH is currently involved in producing a series of "knowledge pyramids" that package the most important science articles on a variety of topics. Capping each pyramid is a concise 1-2 page brief intended to contain the most critical information needed for decision making. The hope is that as these briefs become increasingly useful to decision makers, the topics covered will expand and SEARCH will become a "go to" place for concise, credible scientific information.
Another very important step in attaining SEARCH’s position as a source of actionable information is to more actively engage stakeholders so that their needs can be better understood and the ways in which they use scientific information can be learned. This is the most exciting prospect from my perspective and requires direct personal interaction between scientists and stakeholders. Surprising to me has been the reluctance on the part of many scientists to commit the time to engage with stakeholders or, if they are willing to try, how to accomplish this engagement. Perhaps it has been the advantage retirement has afforded me, but it is all too obvious to me now the bubble that scientists work in. I attribute much of it to the conundrum of too little time and too much workplace pressure to perform, which in science translates into counting publications, but it is a condition that is systemic in our modern society.
One bit of advice I have given colleagues who wish to engage stakeholders is to go to their meetings (rather than invite them to yours), ask them what science they need (rather than tell them your latest discovery), and understand what their job is. Forming personal relationships is also key as opposed to tossing summary reports over the high wall between these two communities. This is the track I have put myself on, and I have found it very enlightening and gratifying. I have only attended one CHRN annual meeting so far, yet it was clear that this type of dynamic is at work.
I'm optimistic that there will be more success in this regard. I recently attended a large international conference in New York City on Regional Sea Level Changes and Coastal Impacts (click here to view many of the presentations). One of the stated objectives of the conference was to identify the scientific needs of stakeholders. Ironically, not too many stakeholders attended, but there were enough. I joined with some in committing to work towards a workshop with a 50/50 mix of stakeholders and scientists for the co-production of sea level rise information that provides better stakeholder decision support. Progress will be gradual, but there is an emerging awareness in the scientific community that they have underserved society, that the traditional manner of scientific knowledge trickling into policy is insufficient, and that the pace of change demands a more active, interactive role for scientists.
I intend to remain active in this issue, and I see the CHRN as a constructive forum to encourage further improvements. I look forward to getting to know more of you better and to contribute to the task of protecting and preserving our coastal regions.
NASA Emeritus Scientist