Science Policy & Funding Opinion

Partnerships Drive Science to Action Across the AGU Community

Scientists and decision-makers are working together to design, conduct, apply, and share research in ways that maximize value to society. How can AGU foster such partnerships?

By , David Behar, Philip W. Mote, Daniel B. Ferguson, and

A growing movement in the geosciences offers a novel and promising approach to leverage our science to advance societal priorities. Rather than two unconnected groups—scientists who perform research and publish it in professional journals and decision-makers who try to understand and apply this research after the fact—scientists are increasingly working in partnerships with people making decisions to design, conduct, apply, and share research in ways that optimize its value to society.

This “coproduction” process requires a commitment by scientists and decision-makers to listen to each other and recognize the value of the other’s expertise. Through these partnerships, scientists can ask novel research questions while simultaneously generating knowledge for making more robust decisions.

Heightened interest in coproduction is motivated by increased demand from decision-makers, who could benefit from knowledge contained in current research but generally cannot directly apply off-the-shelf peer-reviewed literature. The Water Utility Climate Alliance, a collaboration among 12 of the largest water providers in the United States, has initiated several such successful coproduction efforts. This alliance coordinated pilot projects with utilities in New York City; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Tampa Bay, Fla., that demonstrate the value of iterative, collaborative processes between decision-makers and scientists to address climate adaptation challenges (see Vogel et al. [2016] for details and Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science (ACCCNRS) [2015] for additional examples).

We are longtime members of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and we see growing evidence of coproduction within AGU, in many sections and focus groups and in AGU leadership. We have also noticed an expansion of resources, within and affiliated with AGU, that could support this work. Here we demonstrate trends, report on responses to surveys about community engagement that we conducted at past Fall Meetings, offer ideas for how to help the movement toward scientist–decision-maker partnerships expand, and describe ongoing activities and existing resources that could be leveraged in these partnership efforts.

Some geoscientists are already familiar with coproduction. We emphasize, however, that this approach is growing in breadth and depth. We consider it complementary to other research approaches, and we recognize its potential to enhance support for all ways of doing science.

Terms at the Foundation of the Coproduction Movement

Decision-makers increasingly welcome partnerships with scientists as they tackle such issues as global change, natural hazards, and environmental justice. Scientists from many fields and career stages embrace these partnerships to help inform their work.

To help provide clarity across the many disciplines involved, we define terms as follows:

  • Science refers to the entire enterprise, including basic and applied research, citizen science, science education, science-related capacity building, and science policy.
  • Decision-making refers to choosing a course of action, including managing public and private resources, policy making, and decisions made by citizens and officials that affect their communities.
  • Decision-makers are people who do the work to recommend actions, as well as those who make the final decision.
  • Coproduction is any partnership between researchers and decision-makers that leverages the expertise of both groups to design, conduct, apply, and share the research.
Fig. 1. We surveyed AGU Fall Meeting abstracts for terms that indicated partnerships between scientists and decision-makers from 2001 through 2015 and found a growing interest in coproduction.

Coproduction has other names and connotations (Figure 1), but we use it to mean a genuine partnership where knowledge is exchanged in both directions through much of the life of a project according to both partners’ needs. We contrast this with a one-way approach, where scientists design and conduct research but leave application, and sometimes sharing, to others and always after the research is completed [Beier et al., 2016; ACCCNRS, 2015].

Activities and Trends

Several AGU activities connect science with society (Table 1). Most span disciplines and began or reinvented themselves recently. For example, the Societal Impacts and Policy Sciences (SIPS; Table 1) focus group promotes activities to facilitate connections between society and Earth and space science. Their activities and affiliations continue to grow, crossing all geoscience disciplines; SIPS liaisons connect with other sections and focus groups. In another example, the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX; Table 1), more than 100 scientists have contributed their time, pro bono, to support coproduction in communities.

Table 1. AGU-Affiliated Activities at the Science-Society Interface That Support Coproduction
Activity Start Date Goals Activities
Societal Impacts and Policy Sciences (SIPS) 2008, 2014 (relaunch) inform about relevant issues, promote outreach, provide resources, and implement innovative education and interactions that better connect science and society luncheon, media trainings, science policy primers, one-on-one meeting with an attorney, sessions at the Fall Meeting (e.g., most Science to Action sessions in 2017)
Water and Society Technical Committee (W&S) 2011 increase activities related to water and society within the Hydrology section committee meeting, Water and Society sessions at the Fall Meeting
Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) 2013 help scientists, community leaders, and sponsors work together to solve local challenges related to natural resources, climate change, and natural hazards managing about 50 ongoing projects, launching new projects, networking events, coproduction workshop and sessions at meetings
Resilience Dialogues 2016 online consultation service for community leaders to engage in dialogues with scientists, resilience practitioners, subject matter experts, and other leaders 10 communities participating in the collaboration’s beta phase
GeoPolicy Connect 2016 bridge the science and policy divide by gathering experts across sectors to discuss challenging science policy issues first issue: hydraulic fracturing, inaugural meeting, 20–21 October 2016 in Fort Collins, Colo.

 

AGU Fall Meeting abstracts reflect a growing interest in coproduction. To document this trend, we used the astrophysics data system search engine to search Fall Meeting abstracts from 2001 to 2015 for words that denote these partnerships (Figure 1). We checked the abstracts to confirm the terms were used in a way that coincided with engagement as defined above.

Terms more frequently used to denote scientist-to-scientist partnerships were excluded from our search. Abstracts containing multiple keywords were counted only once, and they were counted in the category that is lower in the bar graph in Figure 1. In every year, abstracts were normalized by an annual factor to make the total number (all submitted abstracts) match the total for 2015.

Abstracts indicating partnerships between scientists and decision-makers are found in most of AGU’s sections and focus groups, as well as in Education and Union sessions. Hydrology, Global Environmental Change, Public Affairs, Earth and Space Science Informatics, and Natural Hazards had the largest overall percentages. These remained the top five when values were adjusted according to the section and focus group size as specified by current AGU member primary designations.

Fig. 2. Abstracts indicating partnerships between scientists and decision-makers are found in most of AGU’s sections and focus groups, as well as in Education and Union sessions.

Tellingly, over this time period, we found a considerable increase in abstracts overall that refer to these partnerships that are distributed across sections and focus groups (Figure 2), suggesting a growing community that crosses disciplines with the potential to provide an opportunity to learn from diverse experiences. Fall Meeting abstracts after 2015 were not yet available when we did this survey, but preliminary searches of the 2016 Fall Meeting schedule suggested a continued increase.

These activities and trends suggest that increasing AGU’s capacity to support coproduction will benefit all disciplines: It would generate greater societal involvement in, understanding of, and use of Earth and space science in decision-making, which could increase public support for that discipline and for science as a whole.

How AGU Can Contribute

At the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting, several sessions featured examples of coproduction:

These sessions included 42 oral and 95 poster presentations, 3 panel discussions, and 2 lightning poster sessions (links above go to part 1 of each session series). We, as part of an informal coalition of scientists and decision-makers interested in coproduction, linked these together and connected them to a TEX workshop, two evening networking events (one sponsored by TEX and another organized by session conveners), and a press event.

As session organizers, we asked participants to identify the most important tasks AGU should undertake to improve decision-maker–scientist engagement. We also collected responses to a premeeting survey, which included ideas from 26 session presenters. These responses and informal discussions at the meeting produced suggestions for nine activities. The activities range from individual to institutional and from current activities to long-term goals. References to items in Tables 1 and 2 connect ideas to examples of existing activities and resources.

  • Educate: offer education in communications, media relations (Table 1, SIPS), and coproduction (Table 1, TEX); develop an engagement tool kit (Table 1, TEX); and encourage geoscience curricula to include engagement-related content
  • Make publications accessible to a broader audience: include plain-language summaries alongside research articles (similar to abstracts at this year’s Fall Meeting), support open-access journals (Table 2) or reduced publication-related fees for select groups, encourage graphical abstracts, publicize coproduction (e.g., in Eos), and solicit case studies that highlight localized or contextualized applications (Table 2)
  • Assist with funding: develop ways to measure and illustrate to funders the value of partnerships, help navigate funding opportunities, and promote funding practices that advance coproduction
  • Create rewards: develop descriptions for how scientists and nonscientists alike could make coproduction count toward career advancement and tenure that institutions can use and create a coproduction award
  • Foster more interactions among scientists and decision-makers: continue to grow TEX (Table 1), seek novel ways to connect scientists and decision-makers (Table 1, TEX and Resilience Dialogues), and host a regular coproduction forum (e.g., Science to Action activities at this year’s Fall Meeting)
  • Encourage more social science interactions: promote better understanding of what social science brings to research in the geosciences and involve sociologists and science and technology studies scholars in geoscience research
  • Make AGU Fall Meeting more attractive to decision-makers: provide reduced registration fees, new session formats, outreach, and relevant welcoming sessions (Table 1, SIPS, TEX) and include more social scientists
  • Grow community focused on building partnerships: increase sessions (Table 1, SIPS, W&S) and publications (Table 2, Earth’s Future) focused on engagement processes and methods, not just results, and connect with other organizations exploring coproduction (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Society)
  • Promote an AGU-wide conversation about the role of a scientist in society: encourage all scientists to consider societal consequences of their research and identify potential real-world effects (Table 2, The Bridge, Sharing Science, 2017 Special Collection) and convey coproduction ideas to the larger AGU community (Table 1, SIPS, TEX; this work)
Table 2. Resources Affiliated with AGU That Could Support or Promote Coproduction Activities
Resource Description
The Bridge blog platform to provide scientists, policy makers, and experts with means to communicate ideas about the science policy interface
Sharing Science network to foster the sharing of science with the public, media, K–12 audiences, and/or policy makers
GeoHealth new open access journal, outlet for research that relates Earth and environmental sciences to human, agricultural, and environmental health
Earth’s Future transdisciplinary open access science journal exploring global change, sustainability, and resiliency
2017 Special Collection a series of commentaries from across AGU’s journals illustrating and explaining the relevance of research across the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity

 

We offer this list to highlight recent activities and promote conversations that we hope you will join. We can learn much from one another’s efforts, and this sharing can inspire new ideas that lead to more actionable science. The growth of these activities could prepare the next generation for careers beyond traditional research that can help integrate science and decision-making. Finally, partnering offers a means to diversify the types of people who participate in, benefit from, contribute to, and, ultimately, support the geosciences.

Building Bridges

Bridges between science and society do not build themselves. They require careful planning to align incentives, find and share resources, balance priorities, navigate cultural and practical differences, and make sure that information shared fits the context of the problem [Jacobs, 2002; Ferguson et al., 2014; Beier et al., 2016; and many others]. Yet, through these efforts, both science and society are elevated, and more science is brought to the places where people live, work, and play. Ultimately, better partnerships ensure that our science serves society and better fulfills our motivations, and our responsibilities, both individually and as a community.

We believe AGU has the opportunity to become a scientific society that excels at supporting these partnership efforts. We have shared what we have seen, but we recognize that our searches for trends in coproduction could be refined and broadened, our list of ideas could be expanded, and the collection of ongoing activities is likely greater than what we know. We hope this article promotes further conversations and investigations that can help us learn from each other and leverage each other’s work.

This year at the 2017 Fall Meeting, the grassroots organizing continues to expand. Working as an informal coalition, a group of over 20 AGU members have planned many Science to Action activities, including 14 sessions with 113 posters and 69 oral presentations, 2 panel discussions, 2 evening networking events, and 2 workshops. These activities address important aspects of the growing movement toward strong scientist–decision-maker partnerships.

We aim to continue conversations that will strengthen this community of practice in coming months, years, and the next 100 years of AGU and beyond. We welcome your participation.

Acknowledgments

We thank three anonymous reviewers for helping sharpen our message and participants in this growing Science to Action community for their enthusiasm, engagement, and inspiration.

References

Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science (ACCCNRS) (2015), Report to the Secretary of the Interior, 30 March, Reston, Va., https://nccwsc.usgs.gov/acccnrs.

Beier, P., et al. (2016), A how-to guide for coproduction of actionable science, Conserv. Lett., 10(3), 288–296, https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12300.

Ferguson, D. B., J. Rice, and C. Woodhouse (2014), Linking environmental research and practice: Lessons from the integration of climate science and water management in the western United States, Clim. Assess. for the Southwest, Tucson, Ariz., https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.12774.63042.

Jacobs, K. (2002), Connecting Science, Policy, and Decision-Making: A Handbook for Researchers and Science Agencies, Natl. Oceanic and Atmos. Admin, Silver Spring, Md., https://leopoldleadership.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Jacobs_2001-02_Connecting.Science.Decisionmaking.pdf.

Vogel, J., E. McNie, and D. Behar (2016), Co-producing actionable science for water utilities, Clim. Serv., 2, 30–40, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cliser.2016.06.003.

Author Information

Julie A. Vano (email: [email protected]), Research Applications Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.; David Behar, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Calif.; Philip W. Mote, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Corvallis; Daniel B. Ferguson, University of Arizona, Tucson; and Raj Pandya, American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.

Citation: Vano, J. A., D. Behar, P. W. Mote, D. B. Ferguson, and R. Pandya (2017), Partnerships drive science to action across the AGU community, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO088041. Published on 07 December 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0