Often it is easy to take the stakeholder engagement activities that Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and other Sea Grant Programs are so good at for granted. It is as though these programs with the knowledge, networks and communication skills just jumped into being.
The reality is, a great deal of the success of these programs has its roots in social science, an often under-appreciated and misunderstood branch of science. Recently, a social scientist told me “people think we are communicators, not researchers.” However, as I am learning this week, this could not be farther from the truth.
I am at the Social Coast Forum, an engaging conference where people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds come together around utilizing social science in coastal management decision-making. This is a conference like no other.
There are a variety of session formats, including storytelling -- traditional and short and sweet. There are simultaneously trainings and tool demos. All of them designed to help individuals better understand, engage or communicate with targeted stakeholders, from the public to elected officials to natural resource managers.
I have already learned facilitation techniques, discussed methods of utilizing online statistics, been exposed to new productive tools, and gotten a lot of innovative ideas of what I can bring back to the Sentinel Site Cooperative (where I work as the coordinator).
There are hundreds of people here this week excited to exchange knowledge and ideas around how to apply social science to the goal of improving coastal resiliency. It is easy at times to feel a bit lonely in the role of connecting research to decision-makers, because you are often the only one in the room with that role. It was invigorating to reconnect with peers.
One of the most impactful talks I heard was the opening plenary by Dr. Richard Campanella. His talk told a compelling story of the challenges they are facing in New Orleans and how the geologic and societal characteristics of the area interconnect to setup these challenges. He finished on a tone of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work, connecting to the work we are doing to protect and restore the natural environment and improve community resilience. It set a very positive tone that has continued throughout the week. I cannot wait to get back to the northern Gulf Coast to start sharing and applying all the great things I have learned!