Actionable Science

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Read about actionable science here: Actionable Science and Actionable Science Toolkit

What is Actionable Science?

At the Water Resources Institute, we passionately believe in the role of science in society and 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 hope to 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). The Water Resource Institute’s mission relies on scientists as “neutral brokers” of information to inform debate and decisions.

Actionable Science and You, the Water Resource Institutes-Funded PI

Water Resources Institute 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.

Examples of “bronze” and “silver” medal outreach are illustrated. We hope that support from Water Resources Institute staff, in addition to the following resources, can help researchers move toward a “gold medal standard.”

Highlighted Water Resources Institute Projects

ASC Chronicle
ASC Publications Page
UW WRI Podcasts
UW WRI Videos

Actionable Science Tool Kit

Organizations with Workshops and Resources


National Conservation Leadership Institute –

National Academy of Sciences Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology –

National Academy of Sciences – The Science & Entertainment Exchange –

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

Toastmaster’s International –

Examples and Ideas
Ideas for science communications and bridging the gap between science findings and actions include:
    1. Consider expanding your communication skills and venues – develop “elevator speeches” analogies, story-telling, interview skills, use of alternative technology like YouTube to summarize research projects, etc.
    2. Explore innovative partnerships to advance your science mission for water resource management and conservation(e.g. National Academies of Science and entertainment industry teamed up to create The Science & Entertainment Exchange). Our ability as scientists to communicate with citizens is one of the biggest challenges to making our science matter.
    3. Consider attending or hosting a workshop by one of the national organizations that provide training on this topic, such The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science or COMPASS.
    4. Exchange ideas with other water resources or conservation professionals! There is a lot we can learn from each other in this “experiment” to make more effective the role of science in society.

Resources on communicating science can be found at:

The Scientist Videographer –
How to Give a Stellar Presentation –

Examples of Creative Scientific Communicators, Venues or Projects
Climate Wisconsin
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Forward Motion — The Sky’s the Limit
Science Friday
Radio Lab — sometimes features science issues through stories
Natural Histories project (listen to conversations on the rebirth of Natural History) –
More Science in the classroom
Wisconsin Sea Grant River Talk Series
Science on Tap Minocqua
Olmsted, L.  March 19, 2015.  Jaws: Cape Cod Beach Resort Offers Real-Life Shark Adventures.  Forbes.  Public participants help fund shark research.
2014 Amazon River Adventure — Public participants help fund global rivers research and engage the public in the work.

Examples of How to Encourage Creative Portrayal of Science Through the Arts
Where science meets art NPR Morning Edition series
Science meets art: 2015 Cool Science Images unveiled
Dance your Ph.D.” contest

Articles and Essays

Includes reading related to the challenges of science communications and policy-making, barriers to actionable science and the challenges of incorporating science into society.

Additional Reading Related to the Challenges of Science Communications and Policy-Making

Achenbach, J.  March 2015.  The Age of Disbelief – Why Do So Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?  National Geographic.

Singh, G.C., J. Tam, T.D. Sisk, S.C. Klain, M.E. Mach, R.G. Martone, and K.M.A. Chan.  2014.  A more social science:  barriers and incentives for scientists engaging in policy.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12:161-166.

Dietz, T.  2013.  Bringing values and deliberation to science communication.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:14081-14087.

Von Winterfeldt, D.  Bridging the gap between science and decision making.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:14055-14061.

Fischoff, B.  2013.  The sciences of science communication.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:14033-14039.

(Great quote within – “The goal of science communication is not agreement, but fewer, better disagreements.  If that communication affords people a shared understanding of the facts, then they can focus on value issues, such as…”)

Fischoff, B. and D.A. Scheufele.  2014.  The sciences of science communication II.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13583-13584.

Scheufele, D.A.  2014.  Science communication as political communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13585-13592.

Fisk, S.T. and C. Dupree.  2014. Gaining trust as well as respect in communicating to motivated audiences about science topics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13593-13597.

Jamieson, K.H. and B.W. Hardy.  2014.  Leveraging scientific credibility about Arctic sea ice trends in a polarized political environment.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13598-13605.

Pidgeon, N., C. Demski, C. Butler, K. Parkhill, and A. Spence.  2014.  Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13606-13613.

Dahlstrom, M.  2014. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13614-13620.

Medin, D.L. and M. Bang.  2014.  The cultural side of science communication.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13621-13626.

Downs, J.S.  2014. Prescriptive scientific narratives for communicating usable science.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13627-13633.

Ratner, R.K. and J. Riis.  2014. Communicating science-based recommendations with memorable and actionable guidelines.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13634-13641.

Milkman, K.L. and J. Berger.  2014.  The science of sharing and the sharing of science.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13642-13649.

Contractor, N.S. and L.A. DeChurch.  2014.  Integrating social networks and human social motives to achieve social influence at scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13650-13657.

Wong-Parodi, G., and B.H. Strauss.  2014. Team science for science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13658-13663.

Fischoff, B. and A.L. Davis.  2014. Communicating scientific uncertainty. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:13664-13671.

Other Professional Barriers to Actionable Science

Goring, S.J., K.C. Weathers, W.K. Dodds, P.A. Soranno, L.C. Sweet, K.S. Cheruvelil, J.S. Kominoski, J.Ruegg, A.M. Thorn, and R.M. Utz.  2014.  Improving the culture of interdisciplinary collaboration in ecology by expanding measures of success. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12:39-47.

Hansen, G.J.A., S. Sadro, M.M. Baustian, and B.A. Stauffer.  2014. Is it time to redefine the “alternative” career path for ecologists? Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 23:2-5.

The measure of research merit –

Diversity Challenges

Essays on the Challenges Associated With Incorporating Science in Society

Siitari, K., J. Martin, and W.W. Taylor.  2014. Information flow in fisheries management:  systemic distortion within agency hierarchies.  Fisheries 39:246-250.

Biba, E.  June 3, 2013. Where is the Next Carl Sagan? Before People Will Understand Science, Scientists Must Understand People.  Popular Science. (Excellent essay on selective perception)

Hoffman, A.J.  February 9, 2015. Commentary – Isolated scholars: Making bricks, not shaping policy.  The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Clarke, M. and S. Lawler.  December 31, 2014. Why we need to listen to the real experts in science.  The Conversation.

Nichols, T.  January 17, 2014. The Death of Expertise. The Federalist.

Actionable science student opportunities at the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute

Outreach staff at the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute regularly participate in events that involve sharing the results and benefits of WRI-supported research with the community.

We offer travel funding to Water Resources Institute supported graduate students from around Wisconsin who want to participate in any of the following Water Resources Institute outreach events. Students will get the opportunity to work with and learn from our outreach staff by experiencing firsthand how the Water Resources Institute approaches outreach. You will also get the chance to interact with different audiences and learn to communicate your work in ways that are accessible to them.

Please write to Jen Hauxwell at if you are interested in participating in any of our outreach events or want details on available funding.

Actionable science student opportunities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Universities provide a multitude of options for students to participate in programs, events or activities related to actionable science and community engagement. If interested in improving your ability to communicate with various audiences and begin to engage stakeholders in your research, please consider involvement with one or more of these programs. Here are some of the opportunities for students at UW-Madison:

1) The Wisconsin Idea STEM Fellows: Portal to the public at the University of Wisconsin- Madison


Description: “Portal to the Public” is a new NSF-supported program to help researchers and STEM professionals share science with the public to promote appreciation and understanding of current science research. Portal to the Public focuses on enhancing face-to-face interactions between you and a few people rather than emphasizing mass communications.

Requirements: Training involves a total of 10 hours over three sessions. Following the training, fellows will develop their stations and commit to three public programming events. Fellows will engage the public through Exploration Stations or public presentations at events such as UW Science Expeditions, Wisconsin Science Festival, Engineering Expo, Science Cafe, Nerd Nite and more. Through their training, fellows will develop their stations and presentations with the help of the training team.

2) The Delta Program


Mission: The Delta Program promotes the development of a future national faculty in the natural and social sciences, engineering, and mathematics that is committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse student audiences as part of their professional careers.

The Delta Internship Program: The Delta Internship Program provides graduate students and postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to develop teaching and learning skills in real-world situations. Each semester, the Delta Program supports a new cohort of interns who partner with faculty and staff to improve teaching practices and learning environments through innovative teaching-as-research projects.

The Delta Certificate Program: The Delta Certificate in Research, Teaching and Learning confers recognition of a student’s achievement in the following areas: Experience in teaching, broadly defined to include the college classroom and beyond (i.e. informal educational settings); awareness of how to promote successful learning with diverse participants; knowledge of foundational research and scholarship on teaching and learning; demonstrated application of research skills to the improvement of participant learning; engaged membership in a learning community that is focused on teaching and learning; development of a reflective teaching and learning portfolio.

Events: Events include the monthly roundtable forum, annual workshops and Delta discussions: Brownbag Buzz amongst others.

3) Science Outreach on Campus

Science Alliance: The University of Wisconsin-Madison Science Alliance brings together researchers, outreachers, and volunteers who organize public science outreach events and programs here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and throughout Wisconsin.

4) WISCIENCE: Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement


Description: What used to be the Institute for Biology Education is now in the process of becoming WISCIENCE. The new mission extends across the natural sciences and expands responsibility for facilitating cross-campus collaboration and coordination in the areas of science outreach and support for groups underrepresented in science.

Adult Role Models in Science (ARMS): The Adult Role Models in Science (ARMS) program is founded on the basic idea that the best way to transform science education for children is to help adults—from teachers to undergraduates to researchers to parents—become and see themselves as competent scientific role models. Each trained role model can mentor many children, and that’s how ARMS is able to reach hundreds of kids each year.

5) Morgridge Center for Public Service: Bridging Campus and Community Through Service and Learning


Description: The Morgridge Center for Public Service connects University of Wisconsin-Madison students and faculty to local and global communities to build partnerships and solve critical issues through service and learning.

Resources for graduate students: The goal of the Morgridge Center for Public Service is to support any graduate student who wants to engage in community-based learning, teaching or research. They’ll connect you with the community and provide you with classes and resources to help your community-engaged scholarship flourish.

Excellence in Engaged Scholarship: The Excellence in Engaged Scholarship Graduate Student Award is given to a graduate student who has engaged with the community through service-learning, engaged teaching, or leading or participating in community based research. The Excellence in Engaged Scholarship Graduate Student Award recipient will receive a $400 stipend and will be honored during the spring semester.

6) Morgridge Institute for Research


Discovery outreach programs: Discovery Outreach Programs offer literally hundreds of opportunities annually for people to experience the vibrancy of UW-Madison science. Through a partnership with the Morgridge Institute and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), these programs range from hands-on programs for school children to a four-day statewide science festival that showcases UW-Madison people and ideas. For a complete list of opportunities, please visit our featured program section below.,

Other events:  Science Cafés: Community conversations with a panel of experts, DIY Science and the Wisconsin Science Festival (

7) Wednesday Nite @ the lab


Description: Experience science as exploring the unknown every week at Wednesday Nite @ the Lab. Discover the latest from UW-Madison researchers as they describe their investigations and inventions that are changing how we look at life and how we lead our lives. Join the discussion as learners of all ages find out more and share their ideas, questions and insights.

Actionable science student opportunities at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Graduate students at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences that are interested in participating in outreach activities can contact Liz Sutton, Manager of the Outreach Program, at, for information on upcoming events.

Some examples of outreach events are:

  • The Lake Sturgeon Bowl is an academic tournament for high school students coordinated by the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences. Graduate students can get involved by mentoring students, volunteering at the event, or by acting as officials or judges.
  • Graduate students can also mentor high school students that participate in the ROV competition.
  • Graduate students can help organize booths and exhibits at science museums, elementary and middle schools.
  • Graduate students are sometimes invited to speak to community groups on a variety of topics.
  • There is potential for graduate students to assist in the development and teaching of an outreach curriculum at some school districts.