Answering the ‘how to’: A scientist’s guide for engaging in policy

Elizabeth Hetherington, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Integrative Oceanography Division, La Jolla, CA, United States and Alexandra Atlee Phillips, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
Scientific research is crucial for informing public policy, as decision-makers often rely on the expertise of researchers to guide effective policy proposals. Yet large and critical communication gaps remain between scientists and policymakers. While interest in science policy and communication has substantially increased in recent decades, it has not been accompanied by formal training for scientists on how to engage in policy. Traditional academic and research careers typically do not provide training or exposure to the inner workings of government, public policy, or communicating scientific findings to broad audiences. Here, we provide ten practical steps for scientists who are interested in participating in science policy, with a focus on state and federal policy in the United States. We first include preparatory steps on familiarizing oneself with government structure and function and tailoring science communication for a policymaker audience. We then provide action-oriented steps that focus on arranging and successfully navigating meetings with government representatives and officials. Finally, we suggest structural steps in academia that will provide more resources for scientists interested in policy. To effectively bridge gaps between researchers and policymakers, institutions must increase their support for students and early career scientists who are interested in policy engagement. For scientists interested in policy but lacking experience on how to engage, we provide a perspective from early-career marine scientists who have participated in policy discussions at state, federal, and international levels and are participants in the American Geophysical Union’s “Voices for Science” program. Our goal is to begin the conversation on best practices for science policy engagement, provide researchers with information on how to effectively reach different stakeholders and integrate policy into their research.