AmplifySpearheaded by the College of the Environment and aimed at jump-starting conversations about science communications, Last Tuesday’s Amplify event focused on identifying strategies researchers can use to effectively communicate their science with elected officials and other decision-makers.

For centuries, scientists have skillfully discerned and built upon our common understanding of the natural world and how it works. Often their discoveries occur in a research lab, the field, or the classroom, but today—more than ever—there’s a need to connect those findings to discussions about public policies and procedures. Many scientists understand how their research could impact and inform decision-making across city, state, and federal levels; the goal of this quarter’s Amplify was to get those scientists thinking about the tools they need to effectively engage with the people who make those decisions.

“This particular topic is so important because policymakers make decisions affecting natural resources, and scientists study how those systems work. And, because legislators often have to decide what gets funded, scientists can provide information about which natural resources or ecological systems might need further study,” Jen Davison said. Davison produces Amplify and other initiatives that make up the science communication program, housed in the Marketing and Communications team at the College of the Environment.

Panelists at this quarter’s event, held on February 24, are experts in their fields, and in articulating the implications of their science for a variety of policymakers. Brian Baird, president of Antioch University Seattle and former Congressman, Tessa Francis, lead ecosystem ecologist at UW Tacoma’s Puget Sound Institute, Jim Anderson, professor at UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and moderator Aaron Katz, a principal lecturer in the Department of Health Services and adjunct principal lecturer in the Department of Global Health, all brought unique and experienced perspectives to the discussion.

Engaging in lively and thought-provoking conversation, Baird suggested that scientists “hone their message, and be able to inform and empower their audiences without being condescending.” He noted that science is complex, and researchers within the academic community often spend many years devoted to their area of study. Being able to break down the complexity of your research in order to give people the basics in an engaging, passionate way is necessary, he said.

Francis highlighted some of the challenges associated with science communications, reminding the audience, “policymakers’ goals are very different from your own.” She said giving testimony in front of legislature can be intimidating, and that their attention is usually divided. Her recommendations were to, practice; know your allies in the room and use them to maintain your focus throughout; and be personable while staying objective.

Similarly, Anderson recommended connecting with legislative staffers. “They’re bright, informed, and can advocate for your science in the political realm,” he said.

This event marked the third session of the Amplify: Conversations about Science Communication discussion series, which kicked off in April 2014. Each Amplify event is focused on bringing together faculty, research staff, postdocs, and graduate students from the College and across campus who are interested in exploring and engaging in science communication and outreach.

Amplify events are designed to start conversations, to get people thinking and connecting with each other on the issues involved in communicating science to audiences outside academia,” Davison said. “The College [of the Environment] is dedicated to making sure its scientists have opportunities to grow this skill-set, so they can make their work more accessible to others—be they researchers in other disciplines, policymakers, or people in their everyday lives.”

Connect with the College of the Environment on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up here to stay informed about the College’s next Amplify event, slated for May 19.