Strategic Plan 2011: Background

Background: The charge

Since 1998, when the Leopold Leadership Program began, we have focused our core training in two main areas: communicating with mass media and navigating the culture of Washington, D.C. In the intervening years, a number of important changes have taken place, both within the program and in the world around it. We expanded the fellowship to include researchers from Canada and Mexico, and from a range of disciplines beyond ecology and marine science, including various disciplines in the social sciences and engineering. We also witnessed rapid change in the socio-political landscape as traditional media declined and social media rose, the political sphere became highly polarized, and new ways of working for change took hold.

In 2008, when we completed an impact evaluation to understand how Fellows were using their training, we saw a similarly complex picture of the ways they were engaging with society about their research that went beyond our bimodal core training. On the policy side, for example, the activities that Fellows reported doing most frequently were meeting with employees of federal and state agencies (90%), meeting advocacy groups (85%), and presenting in seminars with decision makers (80%), followed by organizing or signing a consensus statement (75%), participating in a scientific assessment to address a policy issue (74%), meeting with business organizations (57%), and giving public testimony (36%).

Over time, we’ve modified the trainings to keep pace with Fellows’ suggestions for improvements. We began introducing leadership training in 2005, and in 2009 we expanded and deepened these offerings into a fully developed module. For the 2010 All Cohort Reunion, we built on recommendations from individual Fellows and the 2008 impact report to offer sessions on strategic thinking, social networking, and negotiating challenging conversations.

While these updates have greatly enriched the trainings, a clear theme from Fellows’ feedback is that the program needs to evolve further in order to meet its full potential for impact. This strategic planning process presented an unprecedented opportunity to ask: In today’s world, and five years from now, what areas of professional development will be critical for a diverse group of Fellows to have as they lead initiatives that translate knowledge into action? Where should the Leopold Leadership Program be working for maximum effectiveness? What do we need to take into account as we design a program that can evolve to keep pace with the rapid change around us?