3 Thoughts For Scientists Preparing To Engage
These comments originally appeared in the Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy (ESEP) Group on Trellis. They’ve been lightly modified here.
Last month, COMPASS organized a Hill briefing—Counting on Ocean Benefits: A science briefing on the links between the ocean our economy, and human well-being. In a two-day whirlwind, five scientists from different disciplinary perspectives (economics, behavioral psychology, and ecology) and institutions from across the U.S. shared their research and perspectives with Congressional staff, as well as with staff from the Department of State, Department of Treasury, White House Office of Management and Budget, National Ocean Council, and Council on Environmental Quality. The scientists engaged with over 100 policy makers while they were in town. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership wrote a great blog post about the briefing as they experienced it, so I would encourage you read this piece for more detail about what the scientists presented. AAAS Leshner Fellow Meghan Duffy also wrote an excellent piece about her recent experiences with policy engagement and shared some tips that I think are really on point. A few thoughts I want to underscore about our recent experiences and policy engagement in general: 1. Effective policy engagement and effective communication really do go hand-in-hand. The scientists who participated in our briefing all worked very hard for weeks ahead of time to hone their material, to distill complex research into a few crisp slides with compelling images, and to understand what aspect of their research that policymakers would be likely to care about. And their hard work really showed—key messages really resonated, such as the power of science to help us navigate a coming industrial revolution for the ocean. 2. Knowing your audience is essential! And it is hard to do. Each policy maker, whether on the Hill, at the Executive Office of the President, or in a federal agency, focuses on a different suite of issues, and assesses those issues from a different lens. The more you know about your audience’s needs, the better the likelihood that a conversation between a scientist and policy maker will lead to true dialogue and the beginnings of a lasting relationship.
3. Finally, I want to echo a point that Meghan Duffy made in her piece about her recent experiences, because we observed the same dynamic. As polarized and politicized as things are in Washington, D.C. right now, staff from both sides of the aisle and in the Executive Branch were still genuinely interested in what our group of scientists had to say and they were eager to understand how scientists’ knowledge could help inform various policy efforts they are engaged in. This group of scientists made a lot of new connections over these two days. Some of these connections may grow into ongoing dialogue and lasting relationships. Some of the information may inform future policy. It may not. Either way, I was inspired and encouraged by the truly productive and positive discourse….and excited to continue helping create opportunities to bring scientists and policymakers together.
Image info: The U.S. Capitol at sunset, by Meg Gilley.