Tag Archives: Australian politics

science advocacy

Have your call to action ready

Featured image: delegates make their way to meetings with members of Parliament at Science meets Parliament

Krystal, when you first attended Science meets Parliament (SmP), how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I first attended SmP in 2011, when I was a medical research scientist and a founding member of The Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum. I had just been involved in the 2011 “Discoveries Need Dollars” campaign to protect medical research funding in Australia, and was keen to advocate not only for my research, but for the wider research sector.

The best way to prepare for any pitch is to know your audience. I was meeting with the Hon Judi Moylan, an MP from Western Australia, and so I researched her interests and background. I found that she was strong supporter of women’s issues and the diabetes community, and so was able to talk with her about the latest research in this area as well as ways to support women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

It was also important for me to connect with the other SmP delegates who were going to be in the same meeting to understand their key messages and how we could align and support each other’s objectives. We wanted to make sure each of us got time to pitch our own individual areas, as well as giving a positive, cohesive message about the importance of funding, fellowships and support for the future of research in Australia more broadly.

Lastly, I took some prepared material with me to leave behind. Not a big long report, but a one-pager outlining some of the issues facing researchers in Australia and some policy recommendations and actions to address the issues. It is important to put forward solutions, not just focus on the problems; to provide ideas and a call to action on what needs to be done to build Australia’s science and research future.

Did it have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I have been so excited over the past six years to see the increased support for women in STEM and the rising awareness of the need to support early- and mid-career researchers, who are our future science leaders.

This has been achieved by the work of many, many people and organisations, and I have been proud to be one of those voices advocating for change.

It is so important that our leaders and decision makers hear from a diversity of people on issues, so never underestimate the power of your voice to be a part of positive change and science advocacy.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament. What did you think of the event?

Attending SmP was a key part of my professional development in terms of understanding the political process and how to engage with politicians. It was an insight into a whole new world of how decisions about science and research are made and when and how scientists can contribute to policy agendas.

It was also an amazing networking experience – make sure you bring plenty of business cards and if you don’t have some, get some! It was fantastic to meet politicians from all across the political spectrum, and also to connect with other SmP delegates.

The connections I made at SmP with delegates who were passionate about science communication and science advocacy have stayed with me throughout my career and have created many ongoing opportunities over the years.  

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

When communicating your message, think about it like storytelling – have a beginning, a middle and an end. To begin, outline the problem, the middle is what could be achieved if you address the problem, and the end is the call to action on what you want to see happen next.

Always have a clear “ask” on what you want the person you’re meeting with to do next – and be specific. If a Minister says, “I understand the problem – what do you think I should do about it?” you need to have a clear pathway for action.

It’s also important to talk about who benefits from your research and to make it relevant not only to politicians, but to the wider community in terms of what you are trying to achieve.

Be positive. Don’t just talk about the problem, talk about the solutions. In fact, make sure you spend more time putting forward ideas for action than repeating the issues.

Be creative – don’t just ask for more money. Politicians are always meeting with people asking for more funding for their area of interest, so you also need to be able to provide ideas on what can be done without increasing the spend. Perhaps it is a policy change, a reallocation of existing resources or a need to raise the profile and awareness of an issue. Make it personal and customised, so that the person you are meeting with has a clear sense of exactly what you are asking them to do next and how they can work with you to bring about change.

Be useful. Politicians are busy people, with limited time and resources. If you can be an expert advisor to them, a “scientist on call” to provide them with information, background and insights, then you can build a trusted and respected relationship.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

Nothing is more powerful than engaging with the public and being able to show policymakers that the community cares about your science as much as you do. Having support from those who will benefit from your research – whether they’re farmers, patients, industry or community groups – will always add weight to your messages.

Science is mostly paid for by taxpayers, so leveraging support from the broader community can boost your voice and help to get your message heard by policymakers.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I would love to see more internships, where scientists are embedded in politicians’ offices so that they can experience government processes first-hand and contribute their knowledge and analytical skills to policymaking.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science in the US has some incredible internship opportunities and I think Australia would benefit from schemes such as these. It would break down the barriers between science and politics, build greater understanding on both sides and create ongoing relationships between researchers and our elected representatives.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

science policy

Make your expertise available

Featured image: President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Jim Piper (left), hosts a meeting between Science meets Parliament delegates and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) in 2016

Darren, what’s your particular area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

I am a medical researcher, working to understand the biology of cancer and neurodegeneration, and use that knowledge to design new therapies. Both diseases have a huge health and financial impact in Australia and internationally, and with an ageing population this impact will only increase, with obvious implications for health funding and policy.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was actually pretty underprepared. I won’t make that mistake this time!

Did your pitch have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I had a great discussion with a Greens senator from Western Australia who had a strong interest in environmental issues. We talked about the importance of science in understanding the environment and gathering data as a foundation for drafting good evidence-based policy in areas such as fisheries management and forestry. In some ways I didn’t really have to do much convincing! 

This time I plan to research the electorate of the parliamentarians I’ll meet and the issues that might be important in that context. I’ll make sure I understand the issues they have flagged as important to them and think about how my background and research interests might align with those issues. I also plan to ask them questions to find common ground for discussion.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament (SmP). What did you think of the event?

I was really enthused by SmP, and impressed by the level engagement of the politicians and policymakers who attended. I found it an invaluable learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to meet scientists across a broad spectrum of specialities.

Seeing the workings of government up close (if only briefly) was a real eye opener and the various briefings and workshops were constructive and informative. I still draw on the things I learnt there.

In many ways it was a catalyst to me becoming much more interested and active in science policy and communication.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Keep a constructive mindset and focus on how science might help, rather than just presenting a list of problems or complaints.

Listen to the concerns and issues that are important and make yourself available as a source of expertise and advice on the process and outcomes of science by fostering relationships.

Be aware that politics and policy development work to different timelines and use different language to science.

Try to take a bipartisan approach.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult barriers to progress have been the relatively regular turnover of ministers, a challenging funding environment (which always seems to dominate discussions) and hostile attitudes to evidence and rejection of “expertise” in some quarters. 

Overcoming these is really challenging and incredibly time-consuming. My approach is to attempt to build dialogue wherever possible, and to be proactive in making science relevant and interesting to the general public.

I take every opportunity I can to tell people about the outcomes and process of science. Public support for science might eventually translate into it being heard at the policy level.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I believe we can learn a lot from other countries. For example, we could benefit from aspects of science and policy partnering schemes employed in the UK, science diplomacy schemes in the US, and the appointment of ministers with relevant experience and qualifications in places like Canada.

Most government departments in the UK have a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to provide scientific advice and PhD students can undertake three-month internship placements in the Government Office for Science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have a Centre for Science Diplomacy which aims to use to promote scientific cooperation as an essential element of foreign policy.

What are you most looking forward to at Science meets Parliament this year, and what do you hope to see more of in the future?

I look forward to meeting interesting and driven people, gaining new insights and hopefully gaining some traction with politicians about the importance of science and its ability to help drive the health and prosperity of Australians.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

evidence-based policy

Evidence-based policy in action

Science has evolved over many centuries to become an integral part of modern society, underpinning our health, wealth generation and cultural fabric. This process has been distinguished by an implicit collaboration between science and business, government, and the wider community.

However, the integration of science with evidence-based policy has – in this century – often been wilfully disregarded by politicians in many countries, who either cherry-pick or completely ignore the science when it does not accord with their political agenda. Most recently in the United States, we have seen “alternative facts” supplant scientific and other evidence bases in the “post-fact” era.

While surveys continue to show that the vast majority of people still support and believe in the benefits of science, the politicisation of science has inevitably raised seeds of doubt, or polarised many people’s world view.

So it is important now, more than ever, to reinforce with politicians the value and respect for science in the creation of evidence-based policy.

In Australia, a key connection between science and politics is the annual “Science meets Parliament” (SmP) event, which began in 1999, and which today is organised by Science and Technology Australia.  This unique event, that each year brings together hundreds of scientists and the Australian Parliament, owes its success to the way in which it saturates Parliament with science for two days; the great majority of parliamentarians are engaged in the all-pervasive nature of this important scientific exchange.

There are three key outcomes of SmP that distinguish it from a lobbying event:

1. Scientists both young and old – through their enthusiasm for their research – convey the excitement and the benefits of science to parliamentarians, thereby helping to close the “virtuous cycle” that supports science in society;

2. Scientists, at the same time, develop an appreciation for the process of government, contributing significantly to their professional development;

3. Finally, lasting networks are created between parliamentarians and scientists. They go beyond the meetings at SmP, and enable scientific engagement with Parliament to extend more broadly, both geographically and throughout scientific and parliamentary careers.

These networks, and the collaborations that they engender, are key to ensuring the ongoing contribution of science to government decision-making and evidence-based policy, and thereby to enhancing the role of science in our society.

As is the case with science and industry, it is important to continuously innovate in our governance processes; without this, the political system cannot respond to the changing needs of the community.

Science, through events like Science meets Parliament, is a key part of that evolution. We must work tirelessly to reinvigorate this engagement, and to counter those who might seek to cherry-pick and subvert the science that underpins our evidence-based society.

Professor Kenneth Baldwin

Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University

Founder, Science Meets Parliament

Read next: Kylie Walker, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, sheds light on the platforms that allow researchers to forge relationships with Australia’s decision-makers.

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