Fellows, Call Home!

green_phoneLast Monday evening at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting, after a full day of sessions about the ecology of mountains, oceans, and the zones in between, about 80 scientists gathered at a mixer held by the Ecology Society of America Policy Section, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Leopold Leadership Program.

As often happens when scientists who are passionate about linking their knowledge to action get together, the room filled up quickly, and people lingered to talk well beyond the scheduled end at 8pm. A dozen Leopold fellows were there, including Sharon Collinge, vice president of public affairs for ESA, and Karen Holl, the main organizer of the event.

Karen got the idea for the mixer from conversations with other fellows during the 2012 All-Cohort Reunion. “We talked a great deal about the importance of the Leopold network,” she said. “The mixer allowed fellows to not only interact with one another, but also to share ideas and catch up with scientists involved with the ESA Policy Section and the Union of Concerned Scientists who are similarly committed to using science to inform policy.”

In addition to catching up with each other, attendees heard the latest from the three organizational hosts. Alan Townsend, co-director of the Leopold program, spoke briefly about changes in direction following our 2011 strategic plan. He noted the shift in focus from science communication to leadership development designed to support fellows in linking their knowledge to action. This direction, which comes out of fellows’ feedback, gives us agility in addressing emerging needs at the interface of science and action. It also relies on fellows acting as a network — by contributing to our knowledge base, sharing ideas, and taking on new roles in the program.

Alan also touched on the challenging funding situation that we face after June 2016. “We are actively seeking a sustainable funding model and are optimistic that we’ll find it,” he said. “But if we don’t, there’s a real possibility that this program will cease to exist.”

He described a few simple things fellows can do to help sustain the program:

1. Call Home. If you’re involved in an initiative that links your science to action – or if the focus of your research is changing as a result of your Leopold experience – call or email us about it. Your stories help us share the impact of the Leopold program with our funders and build our understanding of what’s needed to help researchers integrate their science into practice.

2. Send a photo with a caption for this blog. Share a highlight from your experience working with an NGO, the private sector, or a government agency to catalyze change.

3. Participate in the Leopold network. Tell us about what’s working and where you see emerging needs to help scientists effectively integrate their science into practice. Make use of the network when you’re undertaking a new initiative. We can help you find others who share your vision.

What do you want to know about the work of the Leopold Leadership Program? Leave your question in the comment section.

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.

Academics are from Mars, NGOs are from Venus – Looking at Conservation from Two Sides of the Solar System

In his new role directing the Luc Hoffman Institute, Josh Tewksbury works with a wide range of policy makers, including the European Parliament.

In his new role directing the Luc Hoffmann Institute, Josh Tewksbury works with a wide range of policy makers, including the European Parliament.

I was an academic. PhD, Post-doc, 10 years as a professor in a big research university, all in the general area of ecology, conservation biology, evolution. But now, and for the last couple of years, I am clearly not an academic (or at least not in the way that anyone in an academic job would recognize). Two years ago, I started a new job as the Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, and I have been building this institute as a boundary organization within WWF International, the secretariat office of WWF.

I used to teach conservation biology; now I am trying to create better conservation outcomes by bringing research more closely into the process. The learning curve has been steep. Most days it is a little bit like drinking from a firehose, but I think I have now been in my current role long enough to appreciate some of the differences in the culture and practice within academic organizations and within large conservation organizations. At the same time, I have not been out of academia long enough to forget what it was like to be an academic.

While the memories of being an academic are both bitter and sweet, I think I would like to remain in this place, perched between the two cultures, because I am more and more convinced that a big part of the difficulties we have connecting science to conservation action and policy comes from the mystery of how the other half works. For more on why we need to strengthen the links between these cultures, see my argument, with Gernot Wagner, here). Here are a few observations on the cultural differences, and the challenges these present:

1. Language and goals. In academia, everyone speaks the same language (science), but nobody shares the same goal (unless you count the “pursuit of knowledge” as a common goal). In an NGO, nobody speaks the same language (as people come from a huge array of backgrounds — business, policy, journalism, advocacy, policy, science, management etc.), but everybody shares the same goal. And that goal is explicit and measurable (and generally quite difficult to attain).

2. What can you do for me today? Because the goals are shared in an NGO, what matters is what your team can do to get the organization closer to the goals. Your resume, your schooling, and your past successes are not nearly as important as your ability to solve problems. This leads to a bit of advice for newly minted PhDs wanting to work at an NGO: show that you can solve problems, that you can work an issue from knowledge creation all the way to an outcome, and that you can do this with a diverse set of stakeholders.

3. Sitting at the side table. The goals are always big and action-oriented in the NGO world (“sustainable production,” “zero poaching,” “30% reduction of the human footprint,” “preservation of the rainforest,” etc. etc.). Science shows up as just another wrench in the toolkit. There are many conservation and sustainable development problems where the science, however elegant, just does not get you much closer to the solution. I call this “science at the side table.” There are also problems where science is critically important, but even in these cases, the science is almost never sufficient to get us the outcome we are looking for. This is “science at the main table,” but not at the head of the table. Finally, there are a very few issues and situations where a science process is at the center of decision-making, and these are the times when I sit at the front of the table. Effectiveness is knowing the difference between these situations, and being comfortable in your seat.

4. Fast or not at all. Policy windows are narrow, and they remain open for only a short period of time. Big NGOs are perpetually in a rush to deliver solutions. About the only times these organizations are not focused on delivering on a “Theory of Change” are the times they are re-evaluating their Theory of Change. This urgency means that science that does not arrive when it is needed simply does not count.

5. Who do you know? No matter where you work, who you know matters, but it matters more in some work cultures than others. And in the NGO community, it matters a lot. In academia, who you know can influence grant and paper reviews, and it can even influence where you get hired out of graduate school, but a great resume can break through that noise. In addition, because peer reviewed papers are a major part of the academic currency system, finding out who controls what information is relatively easy.

In the NGO community, where knowledge is a tool rather than an end in itself, knowing where the knowledge sits is more difficult, and it is generally more important. Almost anything you do in a big NGO will be a networked effort. It will almost always involve working with people spread among different locations, often in different disciplines, and typically across organizations. Keeping everybody up to speed, and staying up to speed on developments that affect a project, becomes a big part of the job.

Tip to job seekers: Your network matters. A lot. If you want to bring an idea to a big NGO, and you have not done this before, here are a few tips:

First, get to know folks within the NGO community. Building your network before you get started is critical, and you will be much more successful if you have a well-respected champion inside the NGO.

Second, interview people so you understand how they approach the issue you are working on, who they see as the most important “actors” in the system, and what their goals look like. Most folks in an NGO measure their success against clearly defined goals, and if your issue is not squarely within one of those goals, you will have a hard time getting their interest.

Finally, ask and answer, for yourself, the following questions about your idea: how does it fit into the larger political landscape? How can it be scaled to create bigger impact? Who is the audience? What are the milestones and products and when can they be ready?

If you want to work in an NGO, here are a few additional tips. Having a boss can be a good thing (really, it is quite cool), but like all relationships, it takes some work. Working with and learning to respect people with divergent views is crucial. Working from knowledge to impact requires a lot more communication than creating research, it requires respect and trust between people with very different skill sets, and the work of the team is much more important than the brilliance of the individual. Go-it-alone individuals often find themselves isolated in the NGO community, and their effectiveness is compromised.

Big NGOs have the network, the convening power, the brand, and the access to private and public sector stakeholders to incubate an idea and bring it to scale. In many cases, working with an environmental NGO is the best way to plug into the knowledge to action continuum, but if you go in knowing a few things about how the ecosystem works, you can have a lot more impact.

Josh Tewksbury, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, directs the Luc Hoffmann Institute. Follow him (@tewksjj) and the work of the institute (@LucHoffmannInst) on Twitter.

Endings and Beginnings for the 2013 Fellows

Photo: Jennifer Tank

Photo: Jennifer Tank, 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow

Yesterday marked the end of the “refresh” training for the 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows. As part of their graduation ceremony, they wrote down things they’ll say “no” to in order to make time for the things that support their visions for change, and then burned the papers in the campfire.

While their fellowship year has ended, their work toward a vision for environmental change is just beginning. As the 2013 fellows know, effecting the kinds of change needed to achieve sustainability is a long-term endeavor. Sustaining this work requires ongoing commitment, learning, and persistence and the support of friends.

As they return home from the idyllic Wingspread Conference Center, we welcome the 2013 fellows into the Leopold network and wish them success in the next phase of their Leopold journey!


The Power of Collective Approaches: An Engagement Strategy for the Long Haul

Karen Lips (right, turquoise jacket)

Karen Lips (right, blue jacket), teaches a graduate course in cross-disciplinary analysis. It will enable students to help inform policy questions about animal imports.

When we created our advanced training program last year, our vision was to help Leopold Leadership Fellows gain a skill or learn about a context they need to understand in order to integrate their science into practice. In January we held our first advanced training, “Hitting Your Policy Mark: Leveraging Networks and Collective Impact,” in Washington, D.C. as a joint pilot with COMPASS. Participants learned how to identify partnerships, pathways, and criteria for selecting opportunities to engage. They also gained skills for mobilizing interdisciplinary sets of experts, drawn from the Leopold Leadership network and elsewhere, to combine knowledge and provide an integrated synthesis of an environmental issue. Chad English, Director of Science Policy Outreach for COMPASS, was the facilitator.

One thing we hope to learn from advanced trainings is what makes it feasible for researchers to engage effectively, in limited time and for the long term, with policymakers, NGOs, businesses, and communities. Chad has written about a creative approach taken by Leopold Leadership Fellow Karen Lips, a participant in the January training. Karen studies the decline of amphibians and has examined risks to them from imported animals that may carry disease. By carefully defining her role in the conversation about this issue, Karen mobilized a community of scientists to analyze data needed to inform policy questions about animal imports. As Chad notes, her strategy ensures that policymakers benefit from the breadth and depth of her community’s collective knowledge.

Karen has also taken an innovative approach to engaging her graduate students. They play a pivotal role in conducting the analysis, which brings together data from science, policy, and economics. Her group is unique in crossing these disciplines to inform animal importation policy questions, and they receive training through an interdisciplinary course that Karen teaches at the University of Maryland. By working with graduate students in this way, Karen is able to provide timely analysis that speaks to policymakers’ needs.

Read Chad’s post for more about how Karen uses a collective approach to have an impact with this work. Is an approach like this part of your engagement strategy? Leave a comment about how it’s working for you.

Pam Sturner (@PamSturner) is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program (@LeopoldLP). Subscribe to “Leopold Leadership 3.0″ to read how Leopold Leadership Fellows are linking their knowledge to action.

Zoos vs. Ecosystems: Jon Foley on the Importance of Networks in Leadership

Jon Foley (Photo by Josh Kohanek)

Jon Foley (Photo by Josh Kohanek)

Note from Kate: As the director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), I’m interested in developing effective environmental leaders. In Boreas we emphasize that leadership is more than a set of skills; it’s a way of working. Networks are a key part of working effectively as a leader.

I’ve been inspired in this regard by Jon Foley, the director of IonE, a Leopold Leadership Fellow, and a recent recipient of the Heinz Prize in the Environment. I interviewed him about leadership and promising paths he sees for developing the next generation of leaders. This is the first in a series of posts drawn from our conversation.

One question I asked Jon was how, as an academic, he works in networks to help solve environmental challenges. Here’s what he had to say:

Confidence and license to try things

JF: Within the academic community things like the Leopold Leadership Program provide networks that universities sometimes don’t provide themselves very well. I remember when I did the Leopold training over ten years ago, it was with a cohort of 19 other people. It instantly bonded into group that became a go-to network of confidantes, advisers, friends, and champions for things that we wanted to do. That gave you license to try a little bit harder to do something a little different…. It’s the unusual couple of people in each institution who want to try out this crazy stuff… it’s kind of your tribe, so to speak.

Reaching beyond the academy

JF: What the Leopold program exposed us to was to really build your network of other folks outside the academy. Get out of the Ivory Tower as much as you can. Leopold exposed us to people in the media who became not just one-time acquaintances but eventually colleagues themselves: reporters who may use you as a source because they know you and trust you and your work; editors who recognize your work; people who ask you to write op-eds. That takes years to develop. But those are important nodes.

Defining your role: what to take on, and when to find partners

JF: I can’t reach the same number of people as a good op-ed writer can. Or a good media person can… Or, in businesses and government, there are key gatekeepers, decision-makers who are highly influential, who you might be able to reach. They can carry your message better than you can into halls of influence and decision-making and power that you might not even be able to enter. You have to figure out where the strategy is and who can help you get the job done.

Networks as ecosystems

JF: My sister-in-law once came up with this analogy: biodiversity matters, but if we’re all in a zoo, if we have two academics in a cage, and a couple policymakers in another cage, and couple reporters in some other cage, that’s not a vibrant ecosystem. What we need is them all interacting together like a real ecosystem. Again, that’s the idea that if we get out of our comfort zone and start circulating among unusual characters, we might find that a lot of interesting interactions are possible in very rich ways that we never thought were possible. I’ve certainly benefitted from the networks of other kinds of people that I’ve built up over the last couple years. I’d like to think I’m benefitting them. At least it seems so, since they keep referring more people to us and our institute. It looks like it’s going both ways. But boy, is it really different than anything the normal academy prepared me to do.

Networks as catalysts for better science

JF: The stuff I’m working on today has nothing to do with what I was doing ten years ago, or even five years ago. A lot of it was guided by the questions people have been asking over the years. It’s been driven more outside of the academy, rather than inside.

KK: So, you’d say the mutual network is making your science…

JF: Better.

Engagement, Not Outreach

JF: I hate the word “outreach,” because it’s a very static notion of knowledge. It assumes we have the knowledge inside the Ivory Tower: all we have to do is put up an antennae and broadcast it to the world, and we’re “outreaching,” telling people who don’t know stuff what we know. That’s so naïve and wrong. It’s mutual engagement — saying, “Hey I can help you, but you’re helping me, and let’s form a powerful, synergistic relationship somehow.” That’s where this networked leadership and engagement model really can be effective. It will make you a better scientist. It will make you a better scholar, thinker, teacher, and leader within your university. To those who used to argue that doing this stuff is sacrificing your science is total and utter bullsh*t. Because if you do this well, it will make you think more critically about the work you’re doing, why it’s relevant, how to communicate it better. It will certainly make you a better teacher, at least. And it will hopefully make you a better scientist. In my case, I think it did a lot.


Check out my next post for a conversation with Jon about leadership development in graduate education and beyond.

Kate Knuth, Program Director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She is pursuing a PhD in conservation biology. You can follow the Boreas Leadership Program and Kate on Twitter, @BoreasIonE and @KateKnuth.