Translating research into public policy

By Elizabeth Mahood, PhD student in Plant Biology

Many of us want our research to have relevance to the world in which we live.  One way to be relevant is to have your findings incorporated into public policy.  That does not happen by accident.  It takes focused work.  The BEST program provides several opportunities each year to learn how to accomplish this.  Here are some pointers gleaned from one of those opportunities.

The AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology has been delivering a workshop called “Engaging with Policymakers” for about a decade, and for a good reason.  As said on AAAS’ website: “nearly every major issue facing society has science at its core”, and yet, a deep knowledge gap exists between the public and researchers—including graduate students and postdocs.

AAAS communication associate, Gemima Philippe, presented a workshop at Cornell University in June 2018 about translating research into public policy

How can we effectively breach this gap?  How can researchers communicate our knowledge so that the public, and policymakers, can make more informed steps toward resolving these issues?  “Engaging with Policymakers”, delivered at Cornell on June 5th, 2018 addressed these questions. The workshop leader was Gemima Phillippe, a Communication Associate with AAAS who had broad experience in communicating issues in occupational health to policymakers.

This workshop made me think about an imperative part of being a scientist—how best to view and present our findings as understandable, important information with the power to shape the community at large. Those of us participating in the workshop were from such varied fields as information science, chemical engineering, and human development.  This diversity highlighted for us the need for strong communication skills across all scientific disciplines.

Phillippe guided us through this process with information about policy making and science communication.  Best communication practices were relayed throughout the workshop.  These included: making sure to facilitate “multi-directional” conversation rather than “lecturing,” highlighting the pros and cons of your research, and contextualizing your results so that they address a specific problem facing your target audience.

We also were given valuable insight into the world of policy.  For example, we learned about the substructures that make up certain governmental agencies, and how best to find and communicate with the policymaker that is most likely to be receptive to your information.  Workshop attendees also gained valuable experience communicating their research in a succinct, coherent way to their peers, and determining how to turn their findings into policy changes.  This workshop is very helpful for anyone who wishes to learn more about science-based policy in general, or who needs practice shaping their research into a meaningful and understandable message.