PROFESSOR 1: Reaching out to policymakers
is not necessarily easy or natural for scholars.
To be really effective in policy outreach,
we actually have to unlearn some of the things that
have become second nature to us as academics.
Basically, we're trained to make technically detailed
presentations to expert audiences
who are inherently interested in our findings
and who may be liable to challenge them.
That training instinctively leads us astray
when we talk to policy audiences.
Even though I've worked in government
three different times during my academic career,
I still have to remind myself of what
not to do every time I get on a plane to Washington.
This video presents our top 10 list of common mistakes
that academics make when talking to policy audiences
and how to avoid them.
So the most common mistake academics
make is talking too much about how they did the research
and too little about what it means for policy.
When we're presenting our work to other scientists,
we have to provide intricate details
of how study was carried out.
And policymakers, by contrast, will generally
trust that your research was done well.
They can't and they don't want to do peer review.
So don't ask them to do it.
Instead, they want the so what of your findings.
What is all the science that we've done actually add up to.
PROFESSOR 2: A related mistake is saving your conclusion
for the end.
In any presentation to a policy audience,
it's a good idea to put your bottom line up front.
Summarize your recommendations for policymakers
in the first 30 seconds, otherwise they may tune out
and they may never tune back in.
Third is too much information.
When dealing with the policy community,
you need to boil things down.
Condense your findings and recommendations
down to a single page, at most.
That's the only format in which they will move up
the decision making chain.
Ideally, you'd like to leave your audience with a soundbite
that captures your main point.
And it's better for you to do the boiling down
than to hope a staffer will do it for you.
They're more likely to pass along your recommendations
if they don't have to spend additional time working on it,
and they're liable to get it wrong if they have
to boil it down themselves.
PROFESSOR 3: Another common mistake
we see is using academic jargon.
There's a lot of technical lingo in science, some of this
And many of the terms that scientists use
are unnecessarily abstruse or have
a different meaning than they do in ordinary parlance.
Overly technical phrasings can obfuscate, rather than
elucidate your conclusions.
Make sure that you clearly articulate your salient points
in terms that are comprehensible to your audience.
Here's one example.
And here is the anomaly at 1,700.
- Enough with this anomaly horse shit.
What is this thing?
- It's an asteroid, sir.
- How big are we talking?
- Sir, our best estimate is 97.6 billion--
- It's the size of Texas, Mr. President.
PROFESSOR 1: Number five, preaching to the choir.
One common error is to look for people in government who
are most accessible or most congenial
with your way of thinking rather than the people who are most
pivotal on a particular issue.
When it comes to climate change, for instance,
many academics tend to preach to the choir,
but if the choir has no power, why bother.
Instead, as we'll discuss elsewhere,
focus on the people who are both influential and persuadable.
PROFESSOR 2: Number six is starting without a strategy.
At the beginning of any outreach effort,
think through the impact you want to have,
then work backwards from there.
In other words, be strategic.
Imagine that a professor wanted to persuade an agency to adopt
a new way of measuring a toxin.
There are a lot of different ways
to start that outreach effort, but some
are less likely than others to have the desired effect.
For instance, that professor might
consider writing an op-Ed explaining
why the measure that he came up with
is so much better than the one the agency
is currently using, but is an op-Ed
the best way to change agency's behavior?
Could he even have the opposite effect
from what was intended by inadvertently embarrassing
the official whose consent is needed to change the policy?
PROFESSOR 3: Number seven, choosing an unpersuasive frame.
Not all policymakers will be persuaded
by the same arguments, but they might still
agree on the same policy.
Choose the argument that will persuade them,
even if it's not the one that would persuade you.
For example, a researcher might believe
that the government should promote
the development of new generation nuclear reactors.
He might frame this recommendation
in terms of how expanding nuclear power
is necessary to help reduce carbon emissions,
but this framing won't work for climate change skeptics.
But that group might be persuaded by an argument
that other countries are already developing these new generation
nuclear technologies and American industry
is losing a major opportunity to compete.
PROFESSOR 2: Number eight, not having a clear ask.
Policymakers are constantly being asked to take or not take
If you don't make an explicit request of them,
policymakers will assume that there isn't one.
If you make an ambiguous or vague request,
they won't know what to do.
The closer you can get to articulating
what you would like them to do right
after they walk out of the meeting, the more effective
PROFESSOR 3: Mistake number nine is thinking that communication
is just one way or one time.
Your meetings with policymakers are an opportunity
to share distilled information and to make an ask,
but they're also an opportunity to listen.
In most cases, the best results will
come from building relationships with people in the policy
community who can then reach out to you when
they have questions.
As we discuss in other videos, policy windows
that are closed now will eventually open up.
If you were already in contact with these relevant
policymakers, you will be able to get your ideas through when
the time is right.
PROFESSOR 1: Number 10, moving at academic cycle times.
Once you formed a relationship with a policymaker,
you need to be able to respond at their pace, not
an academic pace.
You can't wait to return a call until after you've
taught your last class for the week
or until you finish up a section of the article you're
The reality is that the article will still be there,
but the opportunity to engage with the policymaker will not.
Well, that's our top 10 list.
Avoiding these mistakes sounds easy in theory,
but in practice, it can be hard.
How do you identify the right stakeholders?
How do you build relationships?
What's the best way to develop your pitch?
We cover all those things in other videos.