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AAAS Members Brie Lindsey and Sarah Brady Make the Case for Meaningful Engagement in Science Research

What does it take to promote a more equitable science that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved? This question is part of the work that AAAS Members Brie Lindsey and Sarah Brady carry out through their leadership at the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), an organization that engages the science and technology world’s leading experts to advise California policymakers. During the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting, CCST organized and moderated “Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to Address the Biodiversity Crisis,” a scientific session that explored how scientists can perform biodiversity research while diversifying the pool of people who work with and benefit from biodiversity collections.

The panel brought together several researchers working especially closely with collections management and civic science programs. They highlighted ways of meaningfully engaging with communities, both in working to build collections and respecting the relationships required to sustain and maintain those collections. This type of engagement can look like offering high-quality, paid internships to students that educate them on the importance of incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into their scientific pursuits; or setting up partnerships before starting a research project so that scientists can carry out more equitable science. 

headshot of Brie Linsdsey
AAAS Member Brie Lindsey. Photo credit: CCST.

“It’s really about thinking carefully about communities that you’re working with: How can you ensure the research dollars and time invested are serving the advancement of knowledge both with and for these communities?” says Lindsey, Director of Science Services for CCST.

Since 1988, CCST has worked to ensure that California policy is informed by scientific knowledge, research, and innovation. They accomplish their mission by organizing expert briefings, workshops, and reports that make science more accessible to the people who have the power to prioritize it and to use its results in making decisions. DEI is an important and ongoing part of that work, says Brady, CCST’s Deputy Director.

headshot of Sarah Brady
AAAS Member Sarah Brady. Photo credit: CCST.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is woven throughout all three of CCST’s core values: service, independence, and partnership,” says Brady. “Rather than seeing it as a separate endeavor, we do our best to apply a DEI lens on all our day-to-day efforts, as well as our collaborations – understanding that this work is never ‘done.’ It’s a continual learning process.”

In 2013, both scientists were inducted into the CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program, modelled closely after AAAS’ own Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. Since then, they’ve worked to build bridges between the science and policy world. Most recently, efforts that they are particularly proud of focused on meaningful engagement of communities in research. For instance, CCST has helped advance DEI in the scientific enterprise through its partnership with the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), an organization that runs the Climate Change Research Program supporting science to action through engaging both researchers and community partners in all stages of the research process to advance California’s climate change goals. During a CCST-organized workshop that brought together some of the brightest minds from labs, universities, and research centers across the state, SGC was able to carefully define “meaningful engagement,” a practice they had just begun to integrate into their grant application process — and envision ways to support such engagement across California’s research enterprise. Today, funding through SGC’s Climate Change Research Program is only accessible to applicants who submit a local community engagement plan with their application.

“When you're talking about climate change in a state like California and throughout the nation, disadvantaged communities usually bear the brunt of the impacts,” says Brady. “So, when it comes to doing research to inform how the State makes policy decisions related to issues like extreme heat, energy efficiency, or wildfires, you need to be getting input directly from the communities who are impacted.”

DEI is at the heart of good relationships, agrees Lindsey, as well as how results and final reports are communicated to and serve the communities involved. Incorporating meaningful engagement into research reframes partnerships between scientists and communities from transactional to mutually beneficial and inclusive — but it’s a practice that needs to be considered and built in at the beginning, not the end, of a project. And scientists should be trained to think about co-designing research.

“It’s one thing to point out how important it is to talk with all the stakeholders involved in a project about climate change – which is ultimately all of us – and to make sure that conversation is not extractive of any particular community participating in the work,” says Lindsey. “But it's also important to think about what kind of institutional infrastructure is required to train scientists to think about meaningful engagement and get these kinds of partnerships and research started so there is clear mutual benefit from the process and results.”

For AAAS Members interested in learning more about CCST and its vision for helping to guide our nation and world towards a healthy economy, society, and environment, visit ccst.us.