January 10, 2017

Fall Meeting: Did You Miss Science Policy 101?

Posted by cbunge

2016-fall-meeting-logoWelcome to 2017 Bridge readers! Did you join us at Fall Meeting this year? The AGU Public Affairs team featured several sessions about how you as a scientist can get more involved in policy advocacy. One of these sessions was “Science Policy 101: A Field Guide to Congress”. We discussed how Congress works, what changes we can expect in the 115th Congress, and what the best methods are for being active in science policy.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to everyone’s questions – which we address below! Whether or not you attended this session, if you are interested in being involved in science policy in 2017, these tips will help you out. Read on…


  1. What is the most effective way to engage with a Member of Congress? How can I prepare to talk with my Member of Congress? Do legislators really care about what I have to say?

There are plenty of effective ways to engage your Member of Congress. Some of the quicker methods include calling the member’s office directly, sending an e-mail, or even contacting them through social media. You could also invest more time and visit the member in their district or D.C. office. It’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, elected officials answer to their electorate. Constituents are a high priority, and you should never forget that your voice matters.


  1. If reaching out to a congressperson, we are necessarily advocating for something. What exactly does it mean to be “neutral” instead of “partisan”?

Remaining neutral is important when making a request to your Member of Congress. While an issue you bring up might typically have more support from one party over another, it’s not necessarily an indication of how your member might view your request. Party bashing or insulting individuals will always make your request lose validity – even if you’re meeting with someone who agrees with you. Like in science, it’s important to remain unbiased when bringing up an issue to policymakers.


  1. How do I find out which committees and Members of Congress work on the issue I want to discuss?

A great first step to determine your members’ view on an issue is to visit their website. Do some research into their committee assignments. The policy issues that your member works on in their assigned committees and subcommittees are likely high priorities for them. It’s also a good idea to check out their press releases, recent interviews, and social media engagement if you have time. This can help you get a read on their feelings towards certain issues and legislation. Finally, visit congress.gov to get more in depth information bills your member has supported or sponsored.


  1. What’s the easiest way to get active in science policy? Where can I learn more about legislation that’s being considered?

One easy first step is to sign up for AGU Science Policy Alerts. Alerts are sent whenever something important is happening in the science policy world – when Earth or space science-related bills are introduced, being considered, or have been passed. The alerts also provide action items for you to get involved in issues you care about. These range from sending an email to simply tweeting at your member. Sign up by visiting AGU’s science policy website.


  1. My own research interest is quite narrow. Is it okay to approach my Representative or Senator regarding issues about which I am familiar but not necessarily the expert?

Absolutely! While you might think you aren’t the expert in a particular area of science, you have scientific expertise and understanding that is valuable to congressional offices. Members of Congress and their staff deal with an incredibly broad portfolio of issues, and simply having a scientist weigh in is an important voice to have while making policy decisions.


  1. How do we make a difference in policymaker opinion outside our own districts? What kinds of science information are most useful to policymakers?

You can still make a difference with policymakers outside of your own state and district. While you might live in one area, your research may be particularly beneficial to another area. For example, even if you live in the heart of New York City, lawmakers from western states will be interested in how your work helps ranchers deal with the effects of drought and soil erosion. In an even broader sense, you could bring up how science helps strengthen the national economy. There is almost always a link to be made between yourself and a policymaker – it’s just a matter of finding it!


  1. What are civil servants allowed and not allowed to do regarding advocacy?

While civil servants have a unique situation regarding how they can advocate for science, they are still allowed to ask their lawmakers to be strong supporters of science. The important distinction is that as a civil servant, you may not advocate on behalf of your agency when visiting lawmakers. However, you are allowed to advocate on behalf of yourself as an individual. Ask your university or agency’s legislative affairs staff about how to proceed for more information. Your voice is still needed in science policy!


  1. What resources are there for someone like me who has no experience talking with policy makers?

A great place to start is AGU’s Science Policy Website. There, you can find archived webinars, Science Policy Alerts, and additional resources to get you started. AGU is also currently working on Science Policy Toolkits, to be released by the end of this month – stay tuned to hear more!

If you have other questions regarding the session or science policy topics, please contact us at [email protected]