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On October 17th Dr. Melanie Roberts gave a seminar on how to plan for a career in science policy. Below is a summary of her three-part talk (science for decision-making, considerations for engagement, and tips for engagement). If your mission is to make science matter, then enjoy!

Part 1: Science for decision-making
When thinking about how science can best inform policy, keep in mind these two fallacies:

Fallacy #1: Rational Public Hypothesis
Assumption: Given more information, people make better decisions
Reality: Given more information, people become more polarized in what they already believe
What we do about it: Providing the public with more information is not the solution. It’s up to us as scientists to understand the public, and not up to the public to understand us

Fallacy #2: Objective scientist hypothesis
Assumption: Scientists are can be non-biased
Reality: Our values and experiences affect our science
What we do about it: The way we tell our results is biased by what we believe in and what we want to happen. Think about these 4 points when trying to decide what information is useful:

  • Relevant to your specific context
  • Credible from a trusted source
  • Legitimate produced by acceptable means
  • Timely want or need to act

Part 2: Considerations for engagement
Keep in mind these four questions when decided how you will be involved with science policy:

1. What type of policy? 
Science policy can be divided into two types:

  • Policy for science – public policy concerning the structure and priorities for the scientific enterprise
  • Science for policy – use of scientific knowledge to impact decision making

2. What are the policy needs? 
Who is dictating what the policy needs are? Is it the scientists, or the users, or both?

  • Science “pushes” – scientists set the information agenda for potential users of information
  • Demand “pulls” – potential users of information set the information agenda for scientists
  • Iterativity and cooperativity – scientists and potential users of information set information agenda

3. Which role will you play? 
As you explore how you will be involved in science policy, it is important to consider what your role will be.

  • Expert (SME – subject matter expert)
  • Analyst
  • Honest Broker
  • Advocate
  • Politician

Beware of roles in disguise:

  • Advocates doing the science/politicizing science (ie. telling people what to teach)
  • Advocates in scientists clothing, “scientizing policy” (this issue isn’t about policy, if we know the science, we’ll have the answer, when in reality, it’s a policy issue) (be a neutral analyst/advocate)

 4. When will you engage? 
There are distinct phases of policy, and knowing the phase is important for determining how you will engage

  • Understand the problem
  • Explore possible solutions
  • Choose preferred solution(s) – values inform your preferred solution
  • Advocate for solution – you pick the data that supports what you’re advocating
  • Negotiate an agreement
  • Implement

Part 3: Tips for Engagement
Now that you’re ready to be part of action in science policy, keep these tips in mind!

Tips for responsible engagement:

        • Understand your own biases and test your assumptions – recommended reading, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
        • Be honest about what hat you’re wearing – What role are you playing? Do others know that you’re playing that role?
        • Don’t assume the solution
        • Beware of cherry picking your data to support a view that you already hold

Tips for effective engagement:

        • Understand stakeholder needs
        • Use their language
        • Know who has the power to create change (i.e. the chair of the committee, not just a member of the committee)
        • Act at the right time
        • Find trusted mentors/advisors
        • Present data in context

Tips for getting started:

      • Show up
      • Find people who share your mission
      • Read/learn broadly (especially outside of your discipline)
      • Work on your “soft” skills
      • Tell your story to open doors
      • What do you care about?
      • What are you good at?
      • What’s your ask?
      • Volunteer
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