Lab Matters Fall 2018 - Page 23

POLICY Labs Matter: Communicating with Policymakers by Kuki Hansen, BVMS, MPH, DACVPM, manager, Regulatory and Public Policy Public health is a great story. Effectively communicating this story to policymakers is more important than ever given constant threats to funding and an ever increasing and complex public health laboratory workload. While many public health laboratories do not allow staff to perform legislative advocacy, others do and some even require it. In this social media era, the public also has come to expect an ever-higher degree of openness from public servants. Scientists should take every opportunity to demonstrate the value of their work by sharing it with different audiences, especially now when the use of science in decision-making is under threat. Keep it Simple One-page handouts with self-explanatory diagrams, illustrations and contact details help policy makers to retain major points. Be Ready for Your Moment Some people are natural communicators; for others communication is a challenging endeavor. Practicing an “elevator speech” with a non-scientist and having them read your handouts can be enlightening. Was their interest piqued or did they respond with blank stares and requests for clarification? Many organizations offer communications training, some very general, others oriented towards science or policy. APHL offers strategic communications workshops as part of its leadership training programs. Building communication skills will help laboratory scientists to stimulate valuable conversations with policymakers, establish a presence on social media and even inspire the next generation of public health specialists. n A laboratory’s story should not be lost in statistics and verbiage. While public health laboratories do help millions of people, it is more compelling to hear the story of an individual rather than an institution and connect that individual to the millions of other patients, laboratory scientists or whoever is profiled in the story. Messages should be simple with only the most important details that convey the relevancy or urgency of the issue. Science communications resources have exploded in recent years. Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid Podcast, especially the episode with Tina Fey, a physicist and a buzzer, is a wonderful primer. Story Collider offers a storytelling platform for science stories, with events nationally. If you are interested in how Congress gets its scientific information, the American Association for the Advancement of Science convened a symposium to examine the use of science in policymaking. A Capitol Hill office may easily have a few dozen visitors per day. Legislators and staffers will quickly move on from even the most fascinating presentation if it is of little relevance in their state or district. Explaining the financial, social or health benefits of a program to their constituency is vital. Many legislators also have subjects of personal or professional interest that draw their attention, for example, a disease that has affected their family. A laboratory tour or trip to Congress may inform policymakers about the role and contributions of public health laboratories or be directed toward action on a particular issue. If the latter, both concrete recommendations and consequences of inaction need to be clearly described. PublicHealthLabs @APHL Fall 2018 LAB MATTERS 21