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Evaluating Our Impact

Category: Uncategorized

Members of the September 2020 Cohort who presented at AGU Fall Meeting 2022.

September of 2020, Thriving Earth Exchange launched a cohort of 16 projects with support from the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation. This cohort was focused on projects that had potential policy-related outcomes and in 2022 an evaluation was conducted by the Beverly Group to better understand the impacts, opportunities and lessons learned from this cohort.

From this process, we learned about some of the emerging and successful strategies that help Community Science efforts succeed and we share some of those below.

  1. Co-Creating Metrics of Success: Each Community Science project is unique so success will look different for every initiative. Rather than trying to force a project to conform to someone else’s ideas of success, projects should start from what they hope to achieve and work backwards to figure out what would indicate meaningful progress towards that goal. Success might be a community outreach event, getting a policy changed, creating a tool, establishing a new collaboration or something else entirely.
  2. Go Slow to Go Far: Project participants often want to hit the ground running. But that can bypass vital first steps of building relationships, establishing norms and doing community outreach. Even if the community leads have long-standing relationships in the area, they will benefit from setting the stage for success for a new project. That includes figuring out how the team will work together, establishing stakeholder concerns, and building connections.
  3. Signposting and Graduation: Community Science projects are often tackling large systemic issues that are intertwined with other large systemic issues. This can make projects feel overwhelming or never-ending, which leads to frustration and burnout. Two tools to address this are signposting (finding ways to indicate you’ve reached an important milestone in the project) as well as graduation (recognizing when a project has achieved short-term goals and you’re ready to move onto another aspect). Strategically planning how smaller projects can later be scaled or lead to bigger initiatives can also help break-up a big problem into something manageable.
  4. Avoid Data Dumping: Tools like webinars, workbooks, resource kits, case studies etc. are great but they need context and guidance. Rather than putting it all into one big folder or list, consider creating guided experiences for how the tools can be used. This could be arranged by project stage or problems that need to be solved or types of initiatives.
  5. Responsive Resources: Programs should check-in to ensure that the resources they are providing map onto the needs of the projects. Proactively reach out to participants to solicit feedback and work with stakeholders to create new resources or connect them to existing ones.
  6. Define Your Roles: Undefined roles on a project can lead to duplication of efforts, one person taking on too much, or confusion about who should handle something. Clearly defining roles and expectations will ensure that important aspects of the project get done and no one feels frustrated about unexpected obligations.
  7. Expect Bumps in the Road: Things will go wrong. There will be turnover and you’ll need redundancy, flexibility, and willingness to adjust your team. There will be walls you hit that require your team rethink scope or what success looks like. New issues will emerge that will require incorporating into your project. Good planning prepares for that and is ready to be adjust.
  8. Make Time for Storytelling: Stories have power but it takes time, resources, and planning to craft and disseminate them. Build in time and capacity for planning your storytelling, crafting it, getting feedback, determining your audience(s), and then figuring out ways to reach your them. Keep in mind that you may have multiple audiences so you may need multiple stories and ways to connect.
  9. Community Matters: Community Science projects often address priorities and challenges shared by other communities. Finding ways to connect to other people doing this kind of work provides opportunities for mutual learning, mentoring, and planning collaborations. Individual projects should feel empowered to proactively reach out to other projects. And, there is a need for larger convening organizations to foster these conversations and opportunities.
  10. Supporting Volunteers: Project work can be exhausting and time consuming. Volunteers can be supported through a variety of ways such as public recognition, career advancing opportunities, professional development, community care, certification, and honorariums. Convening organizations and partners should consider ways to check-in with volunteers and develop systems of support. There is also a need for expanded funding for Community Science and more recognition by academic institutions of the importance of participating in such projects.

Thriving Earth Exchange is working to incorporate this feedback into our program. Some of these points highlight areas where we are already leaders in this space while others point to opportunities for the future.

In the short term, we will:

  • Seed regional community science hubs that provide ways for us to better connect communities and their projects as well as make a more localized impact.
  • Assemble resources that were created using the Betty and Gordon Moore funds for this cohort with existing toolkits to create a more guided experience.
  • Translate all of our training, orientations and content into Spanish as part of a first step at expanding our resources to more audiences.
  • In 2022, AGU hosted a workshop on a potential new funding track for Community Science via the NSF Convergence Accelerator process. The report from that workshop will be shared publicly along with the participants explicit recommendations for changes to funding structures.

As part of a longer-term strategy, we will:

  • Expand our reach into underserved and marginalized communities and co-developing resources to help them tell their stories.
  • Work collaboratively with other teams at AGU, we will develop justice-centered Community Science courses that are informed by trained instructional designers and provide guided learning pathways and outcomes.
  • Continue pushing (at an AGU organizational level) conversations with funders and the larger scientific community about the importance of Community Science both in funding and outcomes.
  • Explore ways to support and deepen engagement from volunteers including Community Scientists to ensure that there is continued interest in the program as well as appropriate recognition for the contribution of volunteers.

Thank you to our larger Thriving Earth Exchange community for your support over the years and your commitment to Community Science. We are excited about how we will move forward together and welcome your feedback about this evaluation or other ideas about opportunities and strategies for the future.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area.  Visit and follow @MooreFound

Liz Crocker editor

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