For society to manage complex ecosystems effectively — including handling the sudden and cumulative impacts of climate change — it is essential that we get better at integrating science-based knowledge with political and socioeconomic realities. To bridge the different cultures of the citizen, scientist, and public official we need a new kind of environmental professional, one trained in traditional disciplinary skills who can also build consensus among a range of disciplines and communities and communicate complex information to diverse groups. The MIT Science Impact Collaborative (formerly known as MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative) uses field-based graduate learning to provide this kind of instruction. Students serve as staff for community-based, action-research projects. This work allows them to gain the interdisciplinary and communication skills they need to contribute to effective environmental decision-making.
At the same time, the MIT Science Impact Collaborative is testing new approaches to collaborative adaptive management (CAM). We believe that CAM offers the best means of managing the complexity and uncertainty that make it difficult to achieve sustainable development. CAM includes (1) the use of role-play simulations to help the public-at-large understand the science and politics of natural resource management; (2) more extensive stakeholder engagement in public decision-making; and (3) joint fact finding and collaborative monitoring in which citizens have a role to play; and (4) mediation of complex public dispute resolution efforts.
The MIT Science Impact Collaborative combines a new approach to training environmental professionals while simultaneously testing the latest environmental planning methods and providing assistance to communities and policy-makers who seek our help.