Decision-Makers Field Conferences
Joined by several federal, state and local governmental agencies, the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources conducted several 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. The last of these conferences was held in 2009 and no more are planned due to budget constraints. This aggressive program aimed to close the traditional gap between scientists and policy makers in natural resource/earth science issues in New Mexico. These conferences addressed 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 this program was 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 presented 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 conferences can be very successful.
These conferences were field-oriented, and therefore allowed participants a chance to visit sites that were the focus of legislative concerns. The field-trip format stimulated onsite debates about public policy, strategies for growth, and methods for solving problems. The conferences were 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. These trips were never intended to be a lobbying opportunity for any specific agency or program.
We did not have one unequivocal measuring device for assessing this program's success, but many different lines of evidence demonstrated that the program was valuable. We surveyed the attendees after each conference, and the most important question we asked was whether the field conference experience helped them make better decisions in their jobs. Nearly all participants stated that they thought so. Another indicator of success was that many of these decision makers chose to return for subsequent conferences; and word spread to other decision makers that the conferences were worthwhile. Also, the continued success of our conference guidebooks, long after each conference, is a measure of the success of the program and the relevancy of its subject matter.
Each conference attendee was provided a full color, professionally designed and edited, offset-printed, soft-bound book, that contained several 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 specific conference topic. An important component of each article was a brief biography of each author that contains detailed contact information. We designed the books to be valuable resources for many years. We mailed a guidebook to all attendees at least a week before their trip in order to supply them with background information. We also distributed each guidebook free-of-charge to all state legislators and many government agencies. Some of the guidebooks are still available in print and all of them are freely available on our website.