APPENDIX E - NOTES ON THE ROLE OF A RESEARCH TRANSLATOR

Christine Gault

Waquoit Bay National

Estuarine Research Reserve

The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve first applied for funds for a research translator in 1990. As one of several sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Waquoit Bay is cofunded and managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. The Reserve's objectives include conducting and supporting estuarine and coastal research and using the research results to promote more informed coastal decision making. One of the biggest challenges has been to develop an effective way to transfer the research results to decisionmakers. The research translator position promises to be a significant part of the solution.

The 1990 proposal described the process of transferring science to coastal decisionmakers:

“Making the pertinent research results useful to the public involves a process; it is necessary to:

  • understand the full significance of the research questions and be aware of when there are specific findings that can be applied;

  • understand the needs of the coastal decisionmakers for information;

  • understand how people learn and assimilate information so that the information will be presented in a way that people will use it; and

  • present the information in a variety of formats appropriate for diverse learning styles.”

The proposal further states that “Translating the research will require an ongoing familiarity with the researchers and their work. Just as a translator of a book needs to know the language, the culture, and the central questions of the book in order to produce an



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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium APPENDIX E - NOTES ON THE ROLE OF A RESEARCH TRANSLATOR Christine Gault Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve first applied for funds for a research translator in 1990. As one of several sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Waquoit Bay is cofunded and managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. The Reserve's objectives include conducting and supporting estuarine and coastal research and using the research results to promote more informed coastal decision making. One of the biggest challenges has been to develop an effective way to transfer the research results to decisionmakers. The research translator position promises to be a significant part of the solution. The 1990 proposal described the process of transferring science to coastal decisionmakers: “Making the pertinent research results useful to the public involves a process; it is necessary to: understand the full significance of the research questions and be aware of when there are specific findings that can be applied; understand the needs of the coastal decisionmakers for information; understand how people learn and assimilate information so that the information will be presented in a way that people will use it; and present the information in a variety of formats appropriate for diverse learning styles.” The proposal further states that “Translating the research will require an ongoing familiarity with the researchers and their work. Just as a translator of a book needs to know the language, the culture, and the central questions of the book in order to produce an

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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium accurate translation, the translator of research needs to understand the research questions, the research language, and the intent of the scientists. . . The person will also have to be familiar with coastal zone management issues. He or she will further have to be aware of the needs of the local [add state, regional, and federal] managers for information. Even more importantly, s/he, will have to know in what form the managers can use the information. Another 10-page report given to someone who does not have time to read it, will not be as effective as a one-page chart that can be referred to quickly and often.” The Reserve requires the research translator to have background in coastal ecosystems, coastal policy, and communication. It is interesting to note that while the need for a science and policy background is often accepted during discussions on the role of a research translator, the need for a background in communication/education is often underemphasized. It seems that many people feel that the communication is the easy part of the task. However, research has shown that the learning process is complex; people have different ways of assimilating knowledge and information. While some people can learn from reading, many people learn much better through visual, auditory, and tactile approaches. Most people who work with children understand that information has to be presented in a variety of ways to address all learning styles. This same understanding of the learning process needs to be applied to the transfer of science to management. The research translator must have background in the learning process and effective information transfer techniques including printed materials, workshops, experiences, presentations, and demonstrations. The educational background that provides these skills can be as specific as that needed for science and policy. Because transferring science to management requires a background in several disciplines, the research translator needs to be someone who is interested in integrating several different fields; a person whose interest is in drawing different things together to form a bigger picture; a person who sees systems, who looks at the overview. For these reasons and because scientists come from a different “ culture,” most scientists would not make good research translators. Researchers are often interested in step-by-step exploration of questions on a particular topic. They often do not feel comfortable discussing a topic in which they are not fully and rigorously versed. Their training discourages them from sharing information before a high degree of confidence in the data has been established. And because they are so involved in their topic, they often make erroneous assumptions about what people know or understand about their subject. Further, many scientists don't have the background in communication and policy that they need to transfer their research effectively to the policymakers. Transferring research to management involves several levels of translating. In many areas of the country, notably New England, the general public, as town meeting members and town board members, are the decisionmakers. Translating science at this level may often involve general concepts and not many details. An example is when the Waquoit Bay NERR staff was asked to attend the selectman's meeting to explain coastal eutrophication

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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium caused by nutrient loading. One of the most important concepts that needed to be conveyed was that this was a national issue and that many other communities had come up with an array of approaches to reducing nutrient loading, which usually focused on a watershed. The selectmen did not want more details. Another level of information is needed for professional coastal decisionmakers. For such professionals, the presentations and materials need to be more technical but not as technical as that needed to transfer information from one scientist to another. This latter transfer represents a third level of translation. Sometimes promoting the use of science in coastal management involves simply getting several key researchers and policymakers around the same table to discuss an issue. They educate each other by sharing information. The research translator plays a brokering role between the scientists and the managers, thereby facilitating communication.

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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium This page in the original is blank.