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Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2007-24

Taking Legislators to the Field: Communicating with Policy Makers about Natural Resource Issues

Robert S. Sawin and Rex C. Buchanan

KGS Open File Report 2007-24
Presented at the 2006 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting


Policy makers are among the most important audiences for scientific information. In particular, legislators, legislative staff, governmental agency staff, business leaders, environmental leaders, and others need accurate, objective natural-resource information to make policy decisions. This audience is busy and difficult to reach with technical information. As part of its public outreach program, the Kansas Geological Survey (a division of the University of Kansas) communicates directly with policy makers through an annual field conference. Operated since 1995, the conference presents information by combining field experiences, presentations by experts, and participant interaction. The primary objective is to give policy makers first-hand, unbiased information about the state's natural-resource issues.

The field conference takes policy makers to locations where natural resources are produced or used, or where there are important environmental issues, introducing them to experts and others who carry out (or are affected by) their decisions. The conference consists of three days of site visits, presentations, hands-on activities, and panel discussions. Participation is by invitation. Participants pay a small fee, but most costs are covered by cosponsors, usually other state or local agencies, that are recruited to help defray expenses. Participants receive a guidebook before the trip. Travel is by chartered bus; lodging and meals are provided. Conferences have focused on topics (such as energy or water) or regions of the state. The most recent conference focused on cross-boundary issues and included stops in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

Written, post-conference evaluations are extremely positive. Legislators report that they regularly use conference information and contacts during the law-making process; conference information played a direct role in decisions related to underground natural-gas storage rules, water-rights buy-back legislation, and sand and gravel dredging regulation. The conference has raised the Survey's visibility within the Legislature and improved relationships with state agencies. The annual field conference is a highly effective way of providing scientific information to this difficult-to-reach audience. The concept has been adopted by several state geological surveys and is applicable to other earth-science organizations.

Trips have covered all parts of the state.  The 2006 trip covered 282 miles in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missori

The complete poster is available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

AGU_06_poster.pdf (55.3 MB)

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Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach
Updated Oct. 18, 2007
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