Impact360 develops and deploys tools to support researchers and practitioners to build stronger connections, integrate their approaches, and inclusively solve problems together to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk. Boil it all down: we support researchers and practitioners.
However, what do we mean by researchers and practitioners? Who are they and what do they do? This question is one that I have been asking and been asked since I first learned about my position.
When I applied to be director of Impact360 Alliance (back then called Alliance for Integrative Approaches to Extreme Environmental Events), I knew the position would be challenging because the idea of the organization was and still is ambitious. Obviously, the challenge and energetic nature is a large part of why I was driven to the position. Specifically, I was attracted to helping to connect, bring together, and facilitate what the job description called Impact360’s “community,” which was defined as the following:
Researchers (including academic faculty, students, postdocs, and others; scientific labs and non-profit researchers; and consulting agencies), Operational Practitioners (including emergency managers from varying geographical scale and location, Federal and state government officials), Strategic For-Profit Private Partners, and Strategic Non-Profit Private Partners (such as private foundations, entrepreneurs and individual philanthropists).
Quite a broad community, with an enormous range of discipline- and sector-specific challenges and ambitions.
I have four degrees across engineering, information science, and social science. I’ve worked for the federal government, worked as a private consultant, and made tenure as a professor. My work, network, and experience cuts across a broad community.
But not that broad.
After getting hired, I quickly realized that one of the most common questions that I would hear as director of Impact360 is “What about?”, as in “what about my: profession, discipline, sector, employment type, or status.”
Before and since I’ve been director of Impact360, so many of our strategic and public conversations have wrestled with the ever-growing comma-separated lists of groups of people who are working to reduce natural hazard and disaster impacts. That’s because these are the people that Impact360 is working to support and facilitate.
If we said or wrote social science, we also needed to include behavioral science. Is that socio-behavioral science or social and behavioral science? But what about economics? Okay, then SBE science (social, behavioral, and economic). What about natural science? Right! Let’s add that too. (Or should that be physical science?) What about geology? Is it just meteorology because the idea for Impact360 came out of weather-related workshops? Geology, yes–all natural hazards. What about engineering, though? Physical science is not the same thing as engineering, and there is scientific research done in engineering. Ignoring any philosophical discussion, for now, engineering research, as well.
Of course, we haven’t even started asking what about for practitioners. The first “what about” question about practitioners I heard was actually from me at my interview: What about practitioners who aren’t in operations? I was assured that, yes, Impact360’s mission is aimed at more than just operators to include an extensive range of communities of practice. From that point on, the “what about” questions kept going. What about urban planners? Yes. What about politicians? Yes. What about emergency room physicians? Okay. What about school superintendents? If they are working on something disaster-related, yes.
Many people I talk to tend to implicitly define practitioners as those outside of academic research or federal science who do work most similar to them. If they are a federal research meteorologist, they think about forecasters when talking about practitioners. If they are a professor in an emergency management program, they think about emergency management agency staff when talking about practitioners. If they are civil engineers, they think of anyone with a civil engineering degree who doesn’t work at a university.
What about the public? No, Impact360 works for, supports, and facilitates natural hazards and disaster professionals, but not the general populace who are not getting paid by some employer to reduce the impacts of natural hazards and disasters.
So far, I’ve mentioned the “what about” questions related to, basically, type of employment, employer, and job responsibilities. But what about individual people, who may now be a professor at a university after previously working at FEMA or CEO of consulting company who was a federal research scientist for decades or for someone with just a BS who co-authored a peer-reviewed journal article? What about what it means to “research” or what it means to “practice”? Isn’t teaching, in fact, practice?
For Impact360, this is more than an existential or philosophical set of questions. To be able to work to connect, support, and facilitate you all, we need to know who you all are, how we find you (e.g., through social media), and what are your unique needs that we develop and deploy our tools for.
From an outreach and engagement standpoint, we basically prioritize professional communities and professionals who have reasons to attend an ever-growing long list of natural hazards and disaster-related events.
From a design and development standpoint–what informs the communications, tools, and processes we (have and) will offer, we use a set of what are called user personas (more information coming about that in my next blog).
From a vision standpoint, we are looking forward to the day when people who are employed to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk identify with being disaster professionals first, and a researcher or practitioner second (or not at all)–as Jim Kendra wrote, “declaratively closing the gap.”