Greater impacts through actionable science

What is actionable science?

At Wisconsin Sea Grant, we passionately believe in the role of science in society, and we support multidisciplinary research, education and outreach for the protection and sustainable use of Wisconsin’s water resources. Providing good, unbiased science to our public and our policy makers of the state and Great Lakes region is our primary responsibility. We also recognize that all of our work is accomplished within a tapestry of various social values, economic resources and through political debate.

Ideally, as a society we are most productive when people of different perspectives are debating what to do with the facts and seeking common ground based in reality, rather than debating the facts themselves. Toward this goal, we must first do solid research on the most important issues – funding the most relevant, highest quality research projects is one of our key functions. Second, we must communicate this research to a variety of audiences – outreach and communications are our other key functions. The combination of these two goals (good science valued by stakeholders coupled with effective outreach and communication built on solid relationships with the right network and resulting conversations), if done well, results in Actionable Science – basically relevant information or a decision-support framework that can inform the likely outcomes of different options for water resource management.

Scientists are often equipped to conduct the necessary applied research, but lack the necessary skill set or incentives for providing leadership to engage stakeholder or participate in policy discussions on water resources management issues. Over the coming years, we will work with researchers and stakeholders to move Wisconsin’s incredible team of water scientists toward effectively engaging end-users as they 1) develop research project ideas to meet society’s highest needs, 2) conduct their research projects, and 3) develop decision-tools and outreach products. Science has long-been recognized as a cornerstone of conservation decision making. We hope to remove barriers for incorporating science in water resource management in Wisconsin.

Note, it is not our intent to encourage scientists to advocate for a position (i.e., what people should do), but rather to be more effective in sharing information that is relevant and in a form that is understandable (i.e., describe better how the world is or could be based on different potential actions). Sea Grant’s mission relies on scientists as “neutral brokers” of information to inform debate and decisions.

Wisconsin Sea Grant Actionable Science Implementation Plan

To increase the impacts of our projects, we will take the following steps:

  1. An increased focus of our calls for proposals will be on the outreach component of a project.
  2. Research projects will be scored on their outreach component.
  3. We will provide researchers with support from our outreach and communications staff.
  4. We will encourage researchers to work with end-users throughout all phases of their research including project development.
  5. We will continue to encourage social science research and a coupling of social science with natural science in our calls for proposals.
  6. We will encourage researchers to expand upon their communication techniques to include stories, analogies and art.

Additional resources

We have compiled a toolkit of resources that may be useful for researchers interested in exploring both the challenges and solutions for achieving effective outreach and actionable science.