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PSU researchers bridge gap between marine scientists and policy makers
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: July 10, 2014

In late May, two dozen professionals with an interest in Oregon’s ocean gathered in a Corvallis meeting room to bridge some gaps.

They came representing organizations as diverse as Oregon Department of State Lands, the Surfrider Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coastal county planning departments and regional universities. Some were land use decision makers while others came from a marine-related research background, with stores of data waiting for them back in the lab. 

The goal of the day was simple: Connect decision makers with scientists and get them talking about ways that research can inform policy and that policy can inform future research. 

The conference convened by Portland State University and funded by the Oregon Sea Grant, was part of the Information Needs Assessment for Coastal and Marine Management and Policy in the Pacific Northwest Project. 

Prior to the gathering, Kaity Goldsmith, PSU Masters of Environmental Management candidate and Oregon Sea Grant Scholar, spent weeks interviewing scientists and decision makers, working to identify key needs and disconnects. 

What she found was that those making policy-related decisions wanted scientific research to inform the calls they were making and that scientists were eager to see their work used for the public good. What was keeping the two groups apart was often a language barrier. 

“Nothing can replace the kind of interaction you get when you put people in a room together,” Goldsmith said. “This workshop was really the means to begin bridging the language gap between science and decision making.” 

One of the challenges that came up was how both groups defined ecosystem services—the benefits that nature provides to society. Raising the profile of ecosystem services and what they mean to urban and rural areas is a key focus of research at Portland State. 

“We’re committed to educating next-generation environmental leaders to be fluent in the language of ecosystem services,” said Elise Granek, professor of Environmental Science and Management. 

Goldsmith is one of those future leaders. In interviewing conference participants in advance of the workshop, she quickly realized that even though the two groups were using different words to describe ecosystem services along the Oregon Coast, they were essentially talking about the same benefits. 

One of the ways the workshop sought to bridge the gap was by providing a forum for three-minute mini-presentations by participants and a one-hour “speed dating” session that required interaction between policy and research sectors. 

“The conversations were very vibrant,” said Sarah Kolesar, research program leader for Oregon Sea Grant. “One of the highlights was the diverse audience that Kaity was able to bring around the table.” 

Kolesar said that the Oregon Sea Grant program is interested in providing opportunities for these two groups to keep talking, through future events such as an upcoming public coastal conference in Florence, Ore. She also hopes to see similar efforts  replicated in Washington and California.