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Science and Technology Policy Fellows Showcase Effective Communication

Fourth annual science policy 20x20 event highlights importance of improving communications between scientists and policymakers. | Heming Nelson/AAAS

Eight AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows delivered rapid-fire presentations on 29 September on topics ranging from species conservation to water management as part of an exercise intended to outline the role of effective communication between scientists and policymakers.

“The event provided a platform for S&T Policy Fellows to apply skills in communicating succinctly and effectively to diverse audiences – a vital skill for making an impact in science policy,” said Cynthia Robinson, director of the S&T Policy Fellowships Program, which places scientists and engineers from a range of sectors in federal government assignments to learn about policymaking.

The science communication event, called “20x20,” was born at the 40th anniversary for the S&T Policy Fellowships Program in 2013. It was inspired by the Pecha Kucha 20x20 presentation format, a fast-paced presentation that limits speakers to 20 slides lasting only 20 seconds each.

This was the fourth annual gathering at AAAS of current and former fellows. Many of the fellows who had never done a Pecha Kucha presentation before said the format could not only help them communicate clearly and concisely, but also allow them to practice skills that can be applied anywhere.

“With more than 150 attendees and over 140 online viewers this year, the event also allowed broad outreach about the depth and importance of the activities in which fellows engage, and the many ways that scientists and engineers can contribute in the policy arena,” said Robinson.

Science and Technology Policy Congressional Fellows 2016


AAAS' 2016 Congressional Fellows: Back to front, left to right, (sponsor identified): Michael Glotter (Sen. Al Franken), Tim Brown (Sen. Jeff Merkley), Randy Wadkins (Rep. Steve Cohen), Jennifer Brookes (Rep. Louise Slaughter), Manisha Gupta (Sen. Mazie Hirono), Rachel Cumberbatch (Sen. Al Franken), Gifford Wong (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse), Steve Newell (Sen. Bernie Sanders), Timia Crisp (House Energy & Commerce), Karen Paczkowski (Rep. Edward Markey), and Laurie Chong (Rep. Mike Honda). | Gifford Wong

One of the fellows who recently concluded a congressional fellowship sponsored by AAAS partner the  American Geosciences Institute was Gifford Wong, a glaciologist by training. He said the experience helped him learn about the legislative process of writing laws and using his scientific expertise to shape policy. Wong is now an executive branch fellow at the U.S. State Department.

“I think the most important effect science can have in policy is to be present within the conversation when policy is being discussed, formulated, and strategized,” said Wong. “The situation where companies and outside groups engage in climate science misinformation can be problematic and have lasting ripple effects.” 

Another fellow, Barbara Martinez, was a 2011-2012 executive branch fellow who now works as innovation director at Conservation X Labs, a company founded by two alumni S&T Policy Fellows in order to develop new conservation models and prevent the extinction of species.

“We’re looking for exponential solutions to match and overcome the exponential loss of species … and these solutions come from the same source as the problems: Humans,” said Martinez. She stressed Conservation X Labs’ goal to fund and provide the resources and the knowledge for innovators to become successful entrepreneurs.

The fellowships’ long-term effects are evident in the diversity of fellows who have participated in the program since its inception in 1973 and the type of work they go on to do well after their fellowships.

David R. Wunsch, a 1998-99 congressional fellow (sponsored by the American Geological Institute), said he would not be where he is today if it hadn’t been for the fellowship. Today, he works as the state geologist of Delaware, where he merges the best of what he learned as a fellow and as a geologist to monitor New York City’s water supply reservoirs and water management facilities.

According to Olga Francois, senior project director of outreach and engagement for the fellowships program, the fellows are a representation of the breadth of science policy work that is being done every day. The 20x20 fast-paced presentation is a way to give their work a spotlight.