National Academies Press: OpenBook

Climate Communications Initiative Strategic Plan (2019)

Chapter: Background and Context

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Suggested Citation:"Background and Context." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Climate Communications Initiative Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25368.
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Suggested Citation:"Background and Context." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Climate Communications Initiative Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25368.
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Suggested Citation:"Background and Context." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Climate Communications Initiative Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25368.
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Introduction The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) have a vast and growing library of authoritative information to help the nation better understand, prepare for, and respond to climate change. The National Academies launched the Climate Communications Initiative (CCI) to facilitate access to that storehouse by decision makers and stakeholders at all levels of society, to engage with stakeholders to prospectively guide the growth of the storehouse, and to meet and anticipate climate information needs to help protect the many sectors of human investment. The National Academies have established the CCI in order to:  More effectively meet the nation’s needs for climate information by being responsive to and engaging with different audiences;  Identify the National Academies’ particular niche in the broader landscape of climate communication efforts;  Leverage climate-related work from across the institution to more fully realize the potential of the information to meet user needs;  Develop innovative approaches to be nimbler and more responsive, and to proactively meet user needs in a rapidly changing context; and  Advance institutional coordination on this cross-cutting issue. The National Academies convened an external Advisory Committee (see Appendix for the member biosketches), which developed this strategic plan to outline a vision, goals, priorities, audiences, coordination mechanisms, desired long-term outcomes, and near-term recommendations for the institution to carry out these activities. Background and Context Throughout its 155-year history as an “adviser to the nation,” the National Academies1 have helped bring science to bear on many important societal issues facing the nation—from preventing errors in health care to building resilient communities and infrastructure to providing the roadmaps for science education and space exploration. The National Academies seek to help the nation address the complex challenges of a changing climate by providing the most reliable and objective information from science, engineering, and medicine and by convening and connecting the nation’s experts and stakeholders to spark new ideas and innovation. 1 The National Academy of Sciences was chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide an objective, independent source of scientific advice for the nation at the height of the Civil War, to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science” whenever called on to do so by any department of the government. Over time, this institution expanded to become advisers on all matters of science, engineering, and medicine as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies), which now includes three honorific societies and the institution’s operating arm. For more information, visit 1

All divisions of the National Academies have addressed climate-related2 issues, and the publications they have created are the product of the deliberations and consensus of many of the best minds from many areas of expertise from across the nation. In addition to examining new frontiers in climate science, the National Academies have studied climate impacts on national security, agriculture, food security, extreme weather events, coastal communities due to sea level rise, transportation infrastructure, community resilience, ecosystems, and human health; new innovations in energy, vehicles, and carbon removal; and social and behavioral dimensions of environmental change. The National Academies’ consensus study reports in these areas are widely regarded in science policy circles as the “gold standard” for objective scientific review and assessment of specific issues. These reports are the result of an independent and rigorous process that constitutes important assessments of the science in many areas. In addition to consensus study reports, the National Academies have a long tradition of convening engagement activities—including workshops and symposia through the work of roundtables and standing committees—to bring together experts in a neutral setting to learn about the state of the science and provide decision makers with the best available information. These foundational values of objectivity and rigor provide an opportunity for the National Academies to stand as leaders in providing trusted information about the climate to more people than ever before. However, navigating today’s complex and changing information environment is not a simple task. It presents both unprecedented opportunities for innovation and a new array of challenges. It is faster to communicate now, but the speed of communication can also make it easier to lose trust and credibility through communication missteps. As the National Academies rise to meet these challenges, they must above all else preserve their values, reputation, credibility, and scientific integrity. The future of climate communications at the National Academies will require staying true to core values, building on past successes, and institutionalizing practices that allow the institution to thrive in a dynamic environment with growing and changing audience needs. The Role of the National Academies in Communicating Climate-Related Information The climate communication landscape is complex. There is a range of different types of entities— including federal, state, and city government agencies and labs, professional societies, community organizations, museums and science centers, think tanks, foundations, and other nongovernmental organizations—each with different missions and audiences. Their missions vary from focusing primarily on research and analysis to engaging exclusively through outreach and advocacy, and their audiences may also span from local users with individualized needs to policy and decision makers at the national or global scale. Some of these existing groups are more focused on sustained engagement and are well established with their audiences around one or more dimensions of a climate-related topic (e.g., adaptation, mitigation and clean energy technology, or public communication of the state of current understanding of anthropogenic climate change). Some entities address a single topic, while for others, climate is one of several topics within their communication portfolio. The National Academies should not recreate any of the specific services currently being addressed by this rich ecosystem of actors. 2 The phrases “climate-related” and “related to the climate” are used throughout this plan to refer to all of the topics identified in this paragraph. 2

Given their history, mission, breadth of scholarship, reputation, and network of experts, the National Academies’ role in the provision of the best available information is important, even though the decisions that people make about the climate are not solely based on scientific facts (from the National Academies or elsewhere).3 Moreover, any mismatch between the state of public discourse and the scientific understanding about climate and related issues is not due to a lack of facts or evidence from the scientific and technological community, and the National Academies cannot solely bear the responsibility of “correcting” it. Ultimately, however, the Advisory Committee believes that the National Academies can do more to be a brighter “beacon” for the best available scientific and technological information needed to anticipate and respond to climate-related challenges and opportunities. Development of the Strategic Plan To develop a strategic plan for the CCI, the National Academies first brought together an internal advisory group composed of staff representing each programmatic division and central communication and outreach office, referred to as the CCI brain trust. The group members served as touchpoints across the institution throughout the planning process and will continue to do so throughout implementation. An external Advisory Committee (see Appendix for the member biosketches) was then established to develop the plan to guide the National Academies on how to better coordinate and leverage climate- related work from across the institution in innovative ways. The Advisory Committee is composed of 18 experts from academia, business, government, and communication and media organizations with a diverse set of perspectives, experience, and knowledge in areas including climate science, public and environmental health, science education, communication research and practice, brand strategy, industry, policy, and decision making. They were tasked with articulating the goals and target audiences for the CCI, identifying priorities, and recommending mechanisms for coordination, monitoring, and evaluating the impact of the activities of the CCI. The Advisory Committee developed this strategic plan based on its own perspectives, communities, and expertise, and on input gathered from the public, National Academies’ volunteers, discussions with the internal advisory group, and National Academies’ leadership. The development of this strategy occurred at a time when other efforts4 are under way at the National Academies to modernize and transform the institution. Providing advice regarding the overall operation of the National Academies was beyond the CCI’s purview; however, the Advisory Committee noted instances where CCI activities could help advance these broader efforts or vice versa. 3 As described in the 2017 report Communicating Science Effectively. See National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 4 Namely, in response to the 2017 National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) review of the National Research Council and an external review of communications in 2018. 3

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