Community Connections: Bringing Together Scientists and Local Voices

Houston, TX | September 26, 2015

See the full forum video.

Whether it’s protection from chemical hazards, resilience to climate change impacts, or a food system that is accessible and affordable, communities across the country are working to improve health and safety. We can all benefit when all members of the community—scientists, policymakers, and residents alike—have access to the best available science and can break down barriers to shape decisions.

Our September 26, 2015 Lewis M. Branscomb Forum, "Community Connections," explored ways to overcome barriers to collaboration and make scientist engagement more effective. Participants learned about new ways for scientists, leaders, and citizens to work together, and left with strategies and tangible advice to develop (or improve) connections between scientists and communities.

The town hall in Houston, TX hosted a diverse audience of community groups, science organizations, technical specialists, citizens, and elected officials. Participants learned and shared stories from their own experiences of connecting science and community around a range of issues. The first half of the event took a broader look at what it means to connect communities and science. The second part focused on collaborations among Houston’s community and science experts to address local issues facing Houston. 

Webinars: Scientists as stronger community partners

To set the stage for the forum, we held two webinars in June:

From our blog: Stories of scientists and communities working together

Community-based Participatory Science is Changing the Way Research Happens—and What Happens Next
Judy Robinson, Co-founder and Director of Coming Clean
September 9, 2015

People want science to improve their lives directly. They want progress faster, and a more democratic, participatory role in deciding what needs to change and which research questions will fuel a movement for those changes. This is because one thing about science hasn’t changed over time: proof alone changes almost nothing. Read more >

College/Underserved Community Partnership Program: Building a Better Tomorrow through the Power of Partnerships
Michael W. Burns, Senior Advisor for the Regional Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4
August 24, 2015

What if there was a federal program that connected universities and underserved communities to work together to address critical issues? Would you be surprised if I told you that program already existed? Read more >

Why Community-Based Research Matters to Science and People
Lauren Richter, Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology, Northeastern University
August 18, 2015

When and how does research serve people? When and how does community-based participatory research improve the “rigor, relevance and reach” of science itself? Today we are witnessing an increase in collaborative research projects that seek to address environmental and environmental health issues in polluted communities. While an academic scientist may have access to labs and facilities, a community living near an industrial-scale hog farm in North Carolina may have unique insights about the types of exposures and acute and chronic health impacts they routinely feel and observe. Read more >

Community Connections: Scientist-Citizens Have a Critical Role to Play
Andrew Rosenberg, director, Center for Science and Democracy
August 10, 2015

Many community organizations struggle to be heard in our noisy democracy. Even on critical issues such as air and water quality, health hazards from chemicals, local food policy, environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, and the rising challenges of global warming, their voices and needs are often drowned out by those who argue that addressing public health, safety and the environment is too expensive. Read more >

Preventing Asthma: Searching “Upstream” for the Evidence
by Felix Aguilar, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles
December 9, 2014

The buzzing sound of a hand-held nebulizer has become background noise at my clinic. It sounds like a hive of bees moving noisily. Everyday children and adults in South Los Angeles get asthma treatments at community clinics because of exacerbations, also known as asthma attacks. I am a family physician with over a decade of work at community clinics in the poorest areas of Los Angeles. Read more >

Engaging Scientists in Environmental Justice Communities
Juan Reynosa, Environmental Justice Organizer, SouthWest Organizing Project, Albuquerque, NM
October 17, 2014

The environmental movement in this country went through a major culture shift in the 1980s, when organizers of color expanded their vision and redefined their goals. Many communities of color felt that the environmental movement prioritized wildlife conservation over the protection of low-income communities, which usually experience the brunt of environmental injustices. Read more >

Doing Science that Matters: Engaging with Communities in Collaborative Scientific Research
Megan Adams, Ph.D. student and Hakai-Raincoast scholar, Victoria, BC
October 3, 2014

I should have known I would become an ecologist. As a child, I always seemed to catch a salamander while waiting for the school bus, or bring home precious flowers to press through the seasons. I could stare from the bus window out into the grasslands, which transitioned into foothills to give rise to the Rocky Mountains, and imagine infinite ecosystems beyond. My passion as a naturalist and ecologist flourished as a biology undergraduate on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Read more >

Case studies: scientist/community partnerships

We've highlighted stories of successful collaborations between scientific experts and community groups, ranging from managing forests to mitigate wildfire risks in Colorado to assessing the environmental, public health and economic impacts of a mining disaster in the Philippines. Participants explain how the partnerships began, the challenges they faced, what they achieved, and the lessons they learned. Read more >


Forum Advisory Committee

The Center for Science and Democracy has brought together a wide range of perspectives to help inform the creation of this forum, including community groups, science organizations, technical specialists, citizens, and elected officials. We are grateful for their work with us, and would like to particularly recognize the members of the forum advisory committee for their guidance and many contributions:

Dr. David Chavis, Principal Associate/CEO of Community Science

Dr. Megan Latshaw, Environmental Health Director at the Association of Public Health Laboratories

Judith (Judy) Robinson, Executive Director of Coming Clean, Inc

Dr. Rajul (Raj) Pandya, Director, Thriving Earth Exchange at the American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Juan Parras, Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS)

Dr. Melanie Roberts, founder and director of Emerging Leaders in Science & Society (ELISS), at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Michele Roberts, National co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA).

Cynthia Robinson, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science and Technology Policy Fellowships

Adrian Shelley, Director, Air Alliance Houston

Dr. Natasha Udu-gama, Director of Community Partnerships for Thriving Earth Exchange at the American Geophysical Union (AGU). 

Community Connections Survey Summary

To further our understanding of the challenges and best practices of connecting scientists and community groups, we asked researchers, community members, academics and local leaders to fill out a survey about their scientist-community collaborations. Questions addressed the impacts, resources, and processes of the partnerships, as well as lessons they would suggest applying to future projects. This information has helped shape the conversations we’ll be having at the town hall in Houston, and allowed us to identify a variety of different models of scientist-community partnerships.

Read a summary of the survey results >

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