Translating Research to Inform Policy: Making Science Matter

Thursday, May 1, 2014 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum Washington, DC
Our TRIP initiative has been a catalyst for a new nation-wide collaborative initiative: Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy. Read about our debut session, including coverage of our TRIP research and tips, here.

“Is it enough for a scientist simply to publish a paper?  Isn’t it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?”

Nobel laureate chemist Mario Molina

Action on issues like clean energy, climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and natural resource management requires understanding scientific concepts and interpreting nuanced – and often conflicting – empiric evidence.  Scientists and researchers should play a critical role in explaining their research and findings as part of the public policy process, both to improve policy outcomes and generate societal benefit, and to apply their expertise as part of the social contract inherent in taxpayer-funded research. AUNE’s Center for Academic Innovation has launched the Translating Research to Inform Policy (TRIP) program to strengthen the effective engagement of academic researchers and scientists with the public policy process.  Building on AUNE’s decades of success delivering effective practitioner-based training to adult learners through interactive methods, we have developed this initiative to bridge the science-policy divide by developing and presenting a series of pilot workshops in 2012 through which we engaged more than 65 scientists and key leaders in academia to help us identify specific barriers to and facilitators of effective policy engagement and in concrete skills building. TRIP workshops focus on building the capacity of scientists to:

  • understand the needs of policymakers and staff members;
  • simplify and focus communications with the policymaking community and the lay public;
  • attune engagement and communication to the timeframe, jurisdiction and interests of policymakers; and
  • increase familiarity and comfort with the policymaking process.

TRIP’s pilot workshops include interactive discussions with seasoned experts including a former Capitol Hill senior staffer, nongovernmental organization policy advocate, university Environmental Studies faculty member and senior scientist experienced in policy engagement.  Our pool of workshop faculty bring decades of experience in environmental research, policy making, and policy advocacy nationally, and at the local, state and international levels. The TRIP workshops highlight specific ways for scientists to effectively fulfill multiple roles in policy formulation, such as by:

  • providing timely, accurate data (in accessible and understandable form);
  • serving as neutral and respected conveners of policy forums; and
  • conducting research and analysis of findings in response to questions raised by policymakers and other stakeholders.

Feedback from TRIP workshop participants:

  • “[This is an] essential skill for modern scientists.”
  • “[The workshop] was very effective and even empowering. I feel more empowered to get involved with policy issues.”
  • “[The workshop] was excellent. I particularly appreciated the hands-on experience of the workshop and the chance to apply what we had just learned.”
  • “I have been less clumsy at injecting the inevitable policy drivers into our research discussions and have actively and more comfortably looked at these issues, whether enabling or inhibiting, as they impact the path to sustainability. …. I have also been looking at my ability to participate within my time constraints in the local school board as a start, albeit at first by attendance and observation alone.”

We are developing a multi-day institute in response to participant requests for advanced and ongoing opportunities to build on the basic capacity-building of the pilot workshop. For more information about the TRIP initiative and workshop opportunities, please contact TRIP project assistant Joanna Wozniak: jwozniak@antioch.edu.