As the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting kicks off in Boston today, a hot topic of discussion is the role scientists play in working directly with government leaders in the policymaking process.

At a standing-room-only session this morning at the conference, global science policy experts discussed their experiences in creating and strengthening links between scientists and policymakers at all levels of government. The themes and ideas from this session were part of a new report funded by the Moore Foundation called Connecting Scientists to Policy Around the World. The report, available here, documents best practices for immersive science-policy connection mechanisms.

"Policy is a contact sport — you can study it, but the experience of living it is different," said Tom Wang, Chief International Officer at the Center for Science Diplomacy. "In a ‘post-truth’ environment, it’s more important than ever to involve scientists and engineers in the policy process."

A key takeaway from the discussion was the importance and value of fellowship programs that bring scientists into policymaking for extended periods of time. One example of such a fellowship program is run by the California Council for Science and Technology (CCST), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established via the California State Legislature that embeds scientific experts for yearlong placements in science and technology in advisory positions in the state senate and assembly. This program was modeled on the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program that AAAS has successfully run in Washington, D.C. for more than 40 years. 

Since 2009, CCST has trained nearly 80 Ph.D. scientists and engineers in the craft of policymaking in California. More than 50 percent of CCST Science Fellows have been hired by the California State Legislature or a state agency upon completing their fellowship. Other alumni enter industry or nonprofit careers, or return to academia with valuable insights on how to communicate science to policymakers.

Now, building on the success of the CCST Fellows program, teams in nine U.S. states will receive grants from CCST to evaluate the potential to create a policy fellowship for scientists and engineers in their state capital. These grants will support each team in their feasibility study and other strategic steps toward creating an immersive science and technology policy fellowship program for their state.

"Our CCST Science Fellows gain valuable real-world experience working directly in the legislative process, while California state legislators gain access to impartial, science-savvy staff to help them make critical decisions," says Annie Morgan, program manager for the CCST Science Fellows program. "We’ve learned so much from offering this public service and government leadership training experience for scientists and engineers, and we’re excited to share our insights with others around the U.S. aiming to create their own fellowship program."

In light of the fellows’ skills and career trajectories across multiple professional sectors, the network that former fellows have created is becoming an important tool for continuing to advance science policy on a range of issues. This network has also begun to intermingle with the network of fellowship alumni from the AAAS program, further broadening its impact.

"Along with many other organizations within the global ecosystem of science, we are working toward realizing a vision of creating national and international networks of evidence-based government science advising programs," says Jon Kaye, a program director at the Moore Foundation. "The efforts that CCST and AAAS are working on — and now numerous additional U.S. states and countries — are making great strides in that direction. These fellowship programs are not just about bringing scientific knowledge to policymaking, but also bringing a scientific mindset to policy — building from evidence, quantitative analysis and making predictions based on the best available information."

Learn more about the new CCST expansion program here, and read the full AAAS report here.

 

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