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Decision-Makers Field Conferences

Overview

Joined by several federal, state and local governmental agencies, the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources has been conducting annual, three-day field conferences for influential New Mexico decision makers - politicians, government agency directors, appointed and elected commissioners, educators, media leaders, citizen advocates and business leaders. This aggressive program aims to close the traditional gap between scientists and policy makers in natural resource/earth science issues in New Mexico. Over the coming years, these conferences will scrutinize a diversity of issues - geologic, hydrologic, natural resource, geologic hazard and environmental - that affect the future of the state and its citizens.

The primary objective of our program is to present decision makers with the opportunity to learn first-hand about current opportunities, problems and solutions concerning vital earth science issues, and to learn them in an informal outdoor setting. We present earth science from the latest research by our agency and by other state and federal agencies. The instructors are science and policy experts, carefully chosen as capable of making credible, well-balanced, succinct and enthusiastic presentations.

Most decision makers are not well trained in science, nor do they have the time to read scientific reports. At the same time, effective natural resource legislation, accurate news reporting and high-quality public school science education all depend on decision makers having a basic grasp of modern science. Technical publications and reports have not proven effective in reaching decision makers, but well-organized technical conferences can be spectacularly successful.

Conferences

The conferences are field-oriented, and therefore give participants a chance to visit sites that are the focus of legislative concerns. The field-trip format stimulates onsite debates about public policy, strategies for growth and methods for solving problems. The conferences are also an opportunity for state agencies and allied groups to demonstrate to decision makers their ability to work cooperatively and to deal constructively with real-world issues. The trips are not a lobbying opportunity for any specific agency or program.

We do not have one unequivocal measuring device for assessing the program's success. Many different lines of evidence demonstrate the program is valuable. We survey the attendees after the conference, and the most important question we ask them is whether their field conference experience will help them make better decisions in their jobs. Nearly all participants have stated that they think it will. Another indicator of success will be whether these decision makers choose to return for subsequent conferences; and whether word spreads to other decision makers that the conferences are worthwhile.

Guidebooks

The success of our conference book is also a measure of the success of the conference and the relevancy of its subject matter. A full color, professionally designed and edited, offset-printed, softbound book, it contains approximately 30 short papers written for the non-scientist, with abundant photos and illustrations. We carefully choose each topic and author to provide a comprehensive volume of succinct summaries of all of the crucial technical issues related to the conference topic. An important component of each article is a brief biography of each author that contains detailed contact information. We design the books to be valuable resources for many years. We mail a guidebook to all attendees at least a week before the trip in order to supply them with background information. We also distribute each guidebook free-of-charge to all state legislators and many government agencies.

The guidebooks for the first two conferences were very successful. The book for the first conference, which was held in Santa Fe in 2001, was titled Water, Watersheds, and Land Use in New Mexico: Impacts of Population Growth on Natural Resources . It won the 2002 Geological Society of America/Association of American State Geologists John C. Fry Memorial Award for best environmental geology publication in the United States. The 2002 conference explored the complex topic of the state's conventional and renewable and alternative energy resources. Its guidebook, called New Mexico's Energy, Present and Future: Policy, Production, Economics, and the Environment , was adopted as an Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission "Best Practice".

Additional information about the Decision Makers Conferences is available from an article Paul Bauer wrote in Geotimes entitled "Field Camp for Policy-Makers".