COMMUNICATING TO POLICYMAKERS

“While, ASA will be working in Washington to advance the social and behavior sciences, members can make their views known to elected officials. This is a fundamental right and essential to the future of social science funding. Members can send letters, make phone calls, and/or meet with elected officials. If elected officials do not hear from you, they will not have a clear picture of what social scientists care about. It will be too late if we assume that someone else will speak up.

Most members of Congress do not have the social science background necessary to make complex science policy decisions, however they want to be educated and want to know their constituents’ opinions.

As sociologists and allied professionals, we work every day to improve the understanding of the world around us and enhance our nation’s quality of life. This is a professional responsibility. However, we also have a civic responsibility—to share our knowledge to impact policies and programs that influence the public and our profession.” —ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman (December 2010 Footnotes)

Schedule a Meeting

  • Identify your legislators.
  • District office visit or a DC visit.
    • Do you want to travel to DC for the meeting or to the member’s local district office?
      • If you are planning a district office visit, look for a time when Congress is in recess and the lawmaker will be home and more available for a meeting. This page has links to the House and Senate calendars which show what days Congress is in session (in DC) or on recess (at home).
  • Fax a request letter.
    • Draft a meeting request letter and fax it to the DC or district office depending on where you would like to meet. ASA staff can assist you.
  • Follow up with a call.
    • You likely will not hear back from the office, so follow up with a call to the appropriate office and ask to speak with the “scheduler.”
      • Sample script: “Hello, my name is ____. I am a constituent of Senator X and I will be visiting Washington, DC the week of ____. I would like to schedule a meeting with your office to talk about federal funding for social and behavioral science research.”
  • Tell us.
    • Email ASA staff about the meeting. Provide us with your name, contact information, date and time of your event, and the legislator who is speaking.
  • Visit "Tips for a successful communication to help plan your meetings

Attend a Town Hall Meeting

  • Join a legislator’s email list to learn about scheduled Town Hall meetings and other open office hours.
  • Go to legislator’s scheduled Town Hall meetings.
    • Ask questions to raise the profile of social science issues.
  • These types of meetings may undergo changes because of the shooting at Rep. Giffords’ (D-AZ) January 2011 event.

Invite Legislator to Speak at Workplace

  • Fax a request letter.
    • Draft an invitation and fax it to the district office. ASA staff can assist you.
  • Work with federal relations staff at workplace (if needed).
  • Set up forum for legislator to speak.
    • Combine forum with poster session or other activities that highlight the work of social science at your institution.
  • Tell Us.
    • Email ASA staff about the meeting. Provide us with your name, contact information, date and time of your event, and the legislator who is speaking.

Tips for Successful Communication

  • Basic Rules.
    • Legislators want to hear from you and unless they hear from you they don’t know what you need. (Squeaky wheel gets the grease.)
    • You are an expert so do not be afraid to talk.
    • Do not be condescending.
      • Talking with legislators (or staff) is basically relationship development.
        • A relationship can be hard to build but easy to erode!
  • Be Flexible.
    • Place—the meeting can be held anywhere: hallway, front office, elevator, cafeteria, member’s inner sanctum, etc.
    • Person—the meeting may be with a staff member instead of a legislator. (This may change on short notice.)
      • Staff members are young, smart, and will report directly back to the legislator.
    • Time—while you should arrive early, the meeting may not start on time.
      • If you are running late, call the legislator’s office and let the staff know.
  • Be Clear and Succinct.
    • You will most likely have a maximum of 15 quality minutes.
    • Stay focused and limit your message.
      • Develop an “ask,” or a message for your legislator.
    • Convey the importance of the issue to your work, employer, community, or state.
      • Use narratives or anecdotes.
    • Never state information you do not know to be true.
      • If you do not know an answer—tell them that you will research it and get back to them with an answer.
    • Ask them for questions.
    • Reiterate top points and capture and follow up items.
  • Follow up.
    • Thank the participants (verbally and by hand-written letter).
      • Reiterate key takeaway points in letter.
    • Contact office every three months—to build an ongoing relationship.
    • Tell ASA about your meeting/interaction.

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