The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced a new research project to help scientists more effectively communicate with policymakers.
Doing science-related work and communicating that scientific information to policymakers are two very different things.
That’s why the American Association for the Advance of Science (AAAS)—along with American University researcher Elizabeth Suhay and Durham University researcher Erin Nash—jumped at the opportunity to apply for funding from the National Academy of Sciences and Rita Allen Foundation to explore ways that scientists could better engage with policymakers. Suhay and Nash had previously collaborated with AAAS on creating a fall 2017 workshop on this topic.
Emily Therese Cloyd, project director for public engagement at AAAS’s Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, said the timing of the funding was serendipitous. “Although we thought it would be really exciting to work together, we didn’t have funding to do that, we didn’t have a particular prospect for how we would work together, and then the funding opportunity … came along—and perfect,” she said.
Their research will be accomplished across a year. They hope to expand on a previous review of literature “to better understand what research is out there about how scientists communicate with policymakers. And how policymakers incorporate that scientific information into their decision-making,” Cloyd said. They will also interview both scientists about their successful and unsuccessful interactions with policymakers, as well as policymakers—predominantly members of Congress and their staffs—about what is helpful and what is not.
The project will then produce a set of recommended practices. “What we want to do is to draw on the scientific literature, draw on the experiences of scientists and science communicators and on the interviews with the policymakers and policymakers’ staffs to develop this set of recommended practices for communicating science,” Cloyd said. “But we recognize that it will just be that initial set, and we will be able to learn more, seeing those practices in practice and ultimately will be able to further develop those practices down the road.”
Cloyd noted that this project is a part of AAAS’s larger mission of bringing science into the conversation around various issues society is facing, from climate change and infectious diseases to food security and gene editing.
Ultimately, Cloyd said they hope their research will help scientists become a part of that larger dialogue and allow them to present their science. “It’s not just about one-way communication, but really engaging with policymakers and engaging with other members of society to understand what the questions are that they would like answered and how can scientists and society work together to answer those questions,” she said.