There are an increasing number of scientists who want to engage with policy and share their expertise with non-experts - if you're reading this blog post, you're probably one of them! The number of opportunities for scientists to initiate a dialogue with policymakers is increasing but there still isn’t enough information about how to get started in science for policy, where to find opportunities, and who to engage. This blog post outlines some of the first steps you can take to begin your science for policy journey or career.
Step 1: Define your motivation
Scientists have many different reasons for wanting to engage at the science-policy interface. Knowing what your motivations are can help you determine the types of activities that you’d like to engage with and the goals you’d like to achieve with this engagement. Some of the common reasons scientists have for engaging with policy include:
These are just a few of the common motivators for scientists to engage with policy but I’m sure you can think of a few of your own. Understanding this motivation (and where it comes from) will help you move through the next few steps!
Step 2: Determine the level of government that you would most like to engage
It’s important to decide the level of government that you are most interested in engaging with - whether that be local, regional, national or international. Effective policy engagement requires a lot of research and networking (see steps 4 and 5). It’s unlikely that you’ll have the time to be able to effectively engage with more than one level of policy while you’re also fulfilling your other responsibilities and tasks as a scientist.
If you enjoy connecting with people in person but don’t have the resources or capacity for regular travel to the national or regional capital, it might be best for you to work at a local government level. Another consideration is the language(s) you feel comfortable working in. It’s common for scientists to work abroad without fluently speaking the language of the country they are living in. Local dialects and culture can be a barrier for international researchers who want to engage with their local government. If this is the case for you, it might be better to engage on an international level.
Step 3: Outline the policy areas that are related to your research
Many scientists think that because their research area is very niche, their expertise isn’t relevant for policy. Most of the time, this isn’t true! I would encourage you to zoom out a bit and think about the areas that your specific area of expertise is related to and what it impacts. It can be helpful to talk to other scientists who are working on the same research topic as you and to brainstorm these areas together. Once you can loosely connect your research topic with a policy area, try attending a relevant online event and see the types of issues that are discussed and how your research may relate to them.
Step 4: Gather information about the different actors and their role in the policymaking process
There are a large number of actors involved in the policymaking process who have different roles, priorities, interests, attention spans, and knowledge needs. These roles will be different depending on the policy area and level of government that you’re focusing on. Being aware of these different actors will enable you to provide relevant information where it is most needed and therefore most likely to be used. This includes knowing who the relevant decision-makers (the person or the body empowered to take the policy decision), policymakers (the person or the body assisting the decision-maker in reaching a decision by providing analysis and generating options) and stakeholders (people or organisations that affect or are affected by a decision and have an interest in its outcome) are.
Step 5: Find and connect with relevant stakeholders
Gathering all of this information on your own can be time-consuming and difficult. I therefore recommend that you connect with a larger stakeholder group or organisation who already has an understanding about these aspects and offer to support them with your expertise rather than going it alone. Working with a larger group can also amplify the message that you are hoping to share with policymakers and raise your visibility. Not only this, but a third-party endorsement of your expertise can help boost your credibility, particularly if it comes from stakeholders with a different perspective or who are working in another sector.
Joining a science-policy working group or scientific body that is working in your area of interest will also enable you to meet and network with a wide-variety of people. These new connections may be willing to connect you with relevant policymakers or even result in new work opportunities in the future.
When connecting with others, it is important that you also communicate the role that you, as a scientific expert, are filling. I usually recommend that scientists aim to fill the role of an honest broker by putting personal biases aside and providing relevant, contextualised scientific information.
Step 6: Keep an eye out for a window of opportunity
Building relationships can also be particularly useful in deciphering where the important conversations are happening, who is involved in them, and how they drive policies. Understanding these aspects of the decision-making process can help put you in the right place to offer scientific advice when the need arises. Furthermore, it enable you to interpret the type of scientific support needed at a given moment, and empower you to more effectively use windows of opportunity.
More tips for engaging in science for policy
If you would like more information or help with any of these steps, please don’t hesitate to reach out via this website's consultation page. More information and insights will be uploaded on this page bi-monthly. If there’s a particular topic or theme that you would like explored, please feel free to contact me or leave your suggestion as a comment below.
My name is Chloe Hill and I help scientists to effectively communicate their research with policymakers and successfully engage with the policymaking process.
Header photo credit: European Parliament, opening of February plenary session with Vice-president McGuinness.