Lessons for Societies to Engage in the Policy Process

July 10, 2017 Tara Strome

I had the pleasure of joining a group of society and nonprofit publishing leaders for a lively and informative day of meetings in Washington, DC, organized and facilitated by Wiley staff. We met with a diverse group, including staff of the Heritage Foundation, members of Congress, and House and Senate staffers. Our main goals were to advocate for research funding and to learn how societies can engage with Congress to promote good science policy. There were several key takeaways from each group that we met with that could be helpful to societies that want to engage in the policy process as we enter an uncertain and tenuous funding environment. Expert voices are needed to influence policy and societies have a huge opportunity to engage their members in the process.


The Conservative View

The Heritage Foundation is one of the leading conservative think tanks in DC and is considered to be influential in the Trump administration. The Heritage Foundation’s view is that government should not fund any research that can be undertaken by the private sector and that any government-funded research must meet a clear objective. High up-front costs do not necessarily justify government funding. While the overall picture for research funding was bleak, we did gain a few insights:

  • Researchers will need to identify and explain the value of specific programs—and why government funding is necessary to achieve program goals.
  • Societies might engage with industry, who often collaborate on and benefit from government-funded research, on messaging around funding.
  • The Foundation was open to the idea of exploring opportunities for incentivizing increased private sector investment in research. Societies have a key role to play in these discussions.

Champions of Science

We met with several House and Senate staffers and members of Congress—all Democrats—to gauge the current mood on the Hill regarding funding and other science issues. These members and staffers are all champions of science and in general they believed there is bipartisan support for preserving most research funding, though there is great uncertainty around budget numbers right now. They all stressed the need for scientists to communicate with policymakers and provided several great tips for engaging in the policy process:

  • Scientists (and societies) should reach out to members in their own district on both sides of the aisle. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents and it is important to engage with both champions of science and more skeptical members.
  • Be specific. Include information on specific programs, funding requests, and the value of the research. Provide numbers specific to your state and/or district, including the number of jobs affected.
  • Send letters to your members of Congress with specific requests and also send those letters to the local media. It is harder for members to ignore a letter if it gets media attention.
  • In addition to funding, members also need to hear from scientists around research issues such as open access, open data, the effects of travel restrictions and visa policies on global research collaboration, and the need for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The biggest lesson of the day was that there is a clear need for scientists to communicate with policymakers on both sides of the aisle, and that societies have a unique opportunity to facilitate that conversation.

Image Credit: Golden Brown/Shutterstock

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