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Leading with Science

The Nature Conservancy’s Science Impact Project

Supporting innovation, leadership, and communication for conservation success.


Conservation leadership in today’s world means not only delivering on-the-ground results, but also being a visible, articulate thought leader — innovative, interdisciplinary, and able to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences. The Nature Conservancy increasingly demands leaders of this caliber to implement and drive its Global Challenges/Global Solutions Framework.

The Science Impact Project (SIP) draws together exceptional talent from the Conservancy’s global science staff and cultivates superior leadership and communications skills. Through a series of targeted trainings and mentoring, SIP helps Conservancy scientists develop paradigm-shifting ideas on how to best meet today’s greatest conservation challenges — and gives them the tools and strategies to help put them into action.

Candidates for the program propose a novel and significant project to complete over 2 ½ years. Selected participants attend semi-annual meetings where they pursue advanced communication and leadership training, challenge and support each other, and are mentored by senior leadership in science and science communications. As part of developing their professional profile, SIP participants will also take on a team project — leading to a group publication that advances the conservation conversation and contributes to the evolution of the Conservancy’s strategy and profile.

About the training: The curriculum builds from basic messaging and presentation skills, through special communications topics, to collaboration, leadership and organizational effectiveness.  With the same group of scientists at each workshop, participants come to trust and rely on each other to offer fresh ideas, new perspective, and supportive and thoughtful critique.

In addition to in-house expertise, the program draws on trainers with specialized experience in messaging, presentation skills, performance, data visualization, media effectiveness, emotional intelligence, leadership, and the science of science communication. Previous trainers have included:

Individual projects are a major focus of the program. The project may be a new technological approach or a new way of thinking about an issue; it may apply a successful approach from another field to conservation; or it may aspire to make conservation science accessible to audiences that simply haven’t been that interested before. The Science Impact Project stands at the intersection of innovative science and effective communication. The most successful projects will have elements of both.

The project is the foundation for much of the communications training. The ideal individual project is a manifestation of the scientist’s individual expertise and ambition; it aims to shift conservation practice or advance the scientific conversation in a globally or regionally significant way; and it is coherent with the goals of the candidate’s operating unit. The candidate’s supervisor participates in selecting and refining the project.

Participants and Projects

2014 Cohort

Anisa Budiayu, Sustainable Practice Program Coordinator, Indonesia Program: Toward sustainable practice of community-based tourism in MPA.
Chen Ai, Conservation and Climate Change Scientist, China Program: Planning for balanced land use pattern for agriculture and ecosystem services in the face of climate change.
Meredith Cornett, Director of Conservation Science, MN/ND/SD: Oh deer: Deconstructing Bambi, a wicked problem for the Anthropocene.
Ronnie Drever, Forest Ecologist, Canada Program: Caribou and carbon in Canada’s Boreal: Bridging science, conservation and finance in a fire-prone landscape.
Josh Goldstein, Economist and Ecosystem Services Scientist, Central Science: Developing and applying an ecosystem services framework to Inform green economic development strategies.
Sara Gottlieb, Conservation Planner, Georgia Chapter: Communicating monitoring studies to encourage adoption of better agricultural practices in the Conasauga River Watershed, Georgia, USA.
Jin Tong, Conservation Scientist, China Program: Evaluating the effectiveness of the First Land Trust Reserve in China.
Fakhrizal Nashr, Program Development and Learning Specialist, Indonesia Program: The role of culture in the success of REDD+.
Sally Palmer, Director of Science, Tennessee: Advancing TNC’s conservation agenda with better science communications: A case study in content development and delivery in Tennessee.
Bryan Piazza, Director, Freshwater and Marine Science, Louisiana: The Hybrid Scientist.
Julie Robinson, Marine Specialist, Belize Program: Developing a global conservation team to support debt for adaptation swaps.
Steven Victor, Deputy Director for Conservation, Micronesia Program: Fisheries reform in Palau.
Bayarjargal Yunden, Director of Science, Mongolia Program: A strategy for reducing negative impacts of mining and infrastructure development in Mongolia.

2013 Cohort

James Fitzsimons, Director of Conservation, Australia Program: Exploring the past success of Australia’s world-class reserve system to inspire new ways to respond to current financial threats.
Eddie Game, Senior Scientist, Conservation Methods Team: Developing and disseminating a method for using mobile phones to do quick, accurate, frequent and inexpensive social surveys in Africa.
Bronson Griscom, Director of Forest Carbon Science: What forestry systems maximize conservation outcomes while preserving timber production levels? How are they different for forests and crops?
Lizzie McLeod, Climate Adaptation Scientist, TNC's Marine Program Indo-Pacific Division: Broadening TNC's engagement with faith groups: identifying common ground.
Jensen Montambault, Senior Scientist, Central Science: Applying cost-benefit analyses, camaraderie and cultural cognition theory to the diffusion of conservation approaches sheds new light on what makes science “sticky.”
Scott Morrison, Director of Conservation Science, California Program: An expedition to “rediscover” the Pacific islands off the coast of California and Baja California will inform and encourage conservation in these biodiverse islands.
Jeff Opperman, Director, Great Rivers Partnership Global Practices Team: A general interest book uses a family trip down the Mekong River to explore the complementarity of nature and economic development, and presence and distraction.
Sheila Walsh Reddy, Senior Scientist for Sustainability Science: Analyzing the adoption of natural infrastructure solutions for coastal threats, using state-of-the-art text analysis, public meeting minutes and key informant interviews.
Lotus Vermeer, Marine Program Director III, California Program: Exploring the use of remote sensing technologies to improve enforcement in community-based fisheries management.

2012 Cohort

Vera Agostini, Global Marine Team: Ocean dynamics and building awareness of the importance of classical oceanography to marine conservation.
Silvia Benitez, Latin America: Developing a strategy for creating long-term funding mechanisms for water funds that increase the access of poor rural residents to ample clean water. These are the people left out from existing water funds that deliver water to wealthier urban dwellers.
Joe Fargione, North America: “Peak land” use and how to ensure that critical habitat will survive until we arrive at the “light at the end of the tunnel” of population growth and human impacts.
Evan Girvetz, Climate Change: Lay out the concepts, data, and methods of GIS-based practical climate change analysis, while telling a story about how society can geographically understand and cope with the impacts of climate change.
Judy Haner, Alabama: Obtain funding for ecosystem-scale oyster reef restoration in Mobile Bay, Alabama using economic analyses to connect communities with natural resources. Find a way to scale reef restoration to a degree that truly transforms the Gulf and livelihoods.
Rob McDonald, Central Science: Cities without nature — how cities of the future need to invest in nature’s services, or operate as second-class cities that deliver low-quality lives to their dwellers.
Jen Molnar, Central Science: Develop rigorous measures for companies valuing nature; deepen skills as lead science spokesperson for corporate partnerships. make sure that corporate partnerships are not just about money—but can deliver on protected nature and social justice for local communities.
Stephanie Wear, Global Marine Team: Develop an optimistic plan to save coral reefs in spite of coral bleaching and ocean acidification. This entails developing a compelling talk, writing a book, and leading workshops with key stakeholders to build the strategy.

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