Executive Director's Column

The Next Big Step

The theme this year focused on advocacy. Over 100 participants spent a weekend learning how to engage with Members of Congress and their staff.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

On October 13-15, the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) and the Science Directorate hosted the third annual APA Science Leadership Conference (SciLC). Highlights of the meeting are summarized in this issue of Psychological Science Agenda, and the APA Monitor on Psychology will provide expanded coverage soon.

The SciLC provides a venue for psychology’s scientific leadership to gather, develop a shared agenda, and plan for the future of scientific psychology. It is designed to complement the APA State Leadership and Education Leadership Conferences.

The theme this year focused on advocacy. Over 100 participants spent a weekend learning how to engage with Members of Congress and their staff. Then on Monday morning, the group ascended the hill. With meetings in over 100 offices, the messages they delivered were loud and clear: support the highest possible research budgets for NSF and NIH, and respect and protect the peer review systems used by those agencies to select projects for funding.

These messages are not new. They lie at the heart of the advocacy programs of many professional scientific societies. Indeed, the Science Government Relations Staff of APA spends every day delivering and reinforcing the message.

It is less common for scientists themselves to engage in this form of direct advocacy. It happens, but it typically involves a very small group that has been agitated by a crisis. A good example is when grants that have been funded by a federal agency are targeted for rescission. APA will often arrange for the principal investigators of those grants to visit with their Congressional representatives, to enlist their support in blocking such efforts.

A more constructive, rather than defensive, advocacy approach occurs with hill briefings. Small groups of scientists travel to Washington to discuss their areas of research with congressional staff, typically in the form of a small symposium. APA, often in partnership with other professional scientific societies, sponsors dozens of hill briefings every year.

But never has the scientific community of psychology organized itself in the form of a very large group, with the goal of pressing its advocacy agenda directly with congressional offices. Never before has the research community of psychology assembled such a massive, personal presence in the halls of Congress. Until now.

For APA, and for the scientific community we represent, this was the next big step in our advocacy strategy. Nothing is more persuasive for a Member of Congress than hearing directly from constituents. Nothing is more engaging for scientists than the ability to represent their own interests.

Our goal was to empower research psychologists with the ability to advocate on their own behalf. This is only the beginning. We hope that those who attended will share their new skills with colleagues. We encourage researchers everywhere to take the next big step for themselves, to become engaged in our shared advocacy agenda.

Do you want to become more involved, but not sure how? Start by exploring the Science Policy web pages of the APA Science Government Relations Office. There you will find lots of information and resources about current hot topics in science policy, including APA’s latest efforts and pending legislation relevant to psychological science.

You can also subscribe to APA’s Science Policy Insider News (SPIN) [now APA Science Policy News], the monthly newsletter of the Science Government Relations Office. This will keep you up-to-date on the latest, breaking policy news.

Above all, become engaged. We should all be civic-minded scientists, making it our business to know what is happening at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Get involved! Take that next big step!