Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists –
The American Geophysical Union, a nonprofit organization of geophysicists –Earth and space scientists– has launched a new initiative to help communities solve modern-day problems. The Thriving Earth Exchange gives normal people the chance to ask pressing questions and benefit from scientific research and expertise. Communities enhance their readiness to face hazards, better utilize natural resources, adapt to changing climate conditions, and work towards more sustainable futures.
"Even as we celebrate the growing understanding of our planet and our interaction with it, many of us are troubled by the gap between what scientists are learning and what society is using," notes Thriving Earth Exchange program director Raj Pandya. The Exchange promotes scientists working together with local leaders to face communities’ challenges and to share ideas, strategies and solutions in meaningful ways. The platform represents a proactive strategy for making a positive impact on our collective world, a place where communities can “Access the combined talents of thousands of scientists.” It’s true community-inspired science.
The website accepts submissions: scientific questions or dilemmas posed by non-scientists seeking help. "When communities help define science questions, they are more likely to use and benefit from the research around those questions." Submissions are open to any community of any size around the world. One of the questions asked during the submission process: ‘How does a solution to your problem benefit society or the Earth?’
The initiative taps into the very human wish to make a difference in the world. Scientists can get involved with challenges that interest them, contribute concise solutions, share their scientific expertise via proposing innovative ideas to solve the problem. Science becomes less obscure while scientists get a chance to apply their professional expertise to real community problems. It can fulfill wishes: raising community awareness of science, outlining the benefits of ongoing scientific research, communicating science, educating policy makers, serving society, and making a truly tangible difference. The Exchange also encourages interaction: not only are communities learning from scientists, but scientists are listening to the public and getting real experience and meaningful interaction.
Pilot challenges for the program included a local drought monitoring challenge utilizing free state weather data to identify when counties in Kentucky will experience drought. Another was a community-led initiative in Minnesota developing sensors to monitor water quality, wild rice habitat, and lake ecosystems. Future challenges include topics like urban environmental impacts on resident health.
At the Thriving Earth Exchange website, scientists and scientifically-inclined solvers can sign up, explore posted challenges and propose solutions. They can craft solutions alone or in groups, and the Exchange doesn’t conflict with scientists’ other current research efforts or positions. It allows professionals to collaborate with peers and get involved with colleagues they might otherwise never work alongside. Community challenges can cross the boundaries of traditional science disciplines.
Proposed solutions are reviewed by a panel of judges including representatives from the community which presented the challenges. They choose the best solution or set of plans to advance the community’s goals. Then the Thriving Earth Exchange seeks a network of sponsors (including foundations, agencies, and crowd-sourcing efforts). It’s a system of communities seeking solutions, solvers working to help them, and sponsors willing to invest in the winning solution, followed by a collaborative effort including all three working to implement the plan.
The Thriving Earth Exchange then shares the best solutions worldwide, hoping the solution to one community’s problem could have relevant uses in aiding other communities. The data crosses boundaries, solving local problems in one place, inspiring solutions elsewhere. By sharing successes, "You might end up creating a solution that is adapted by communities around the globe."
Frontier Scientists: presenting scientific discovery in the Arctic and beyond
- ‘AGU's Thriving Earth Exchange: Five Reasons to Join In’ Pandya, R., J. Galkiewicz, B. Williams and H. Furukawa, Eos Transactinos American Geophysical Union (Nov 5 2013)
- ‘Welcome to the Thriving Earth Exchange’ Thriving Earth Exchange website, American Geophysical Union (June 10, 2013)