A Reference Guide for How to Advocate for Science
Advocating for science comes down to effective communication. The main steps here are determining your message, developing a communication strategy, and identifying your member of Congress.
On this page, we will describe effective communication, effective methods of communication, and how to identify your members of Congress. If you're looking for assistance with determining your message, then please email [email protected]. You may also find it helpful to consult our Information on Relevant Policies for status updates on some of the policy issues that impact the astronomical sciences.
You can find information about setting up a meeting with your member of Congress here.
How to Effectively Communicate
Your goal is to develop a message that helps you to control timing, remember key points, speak without notes, avoid jargon, stay on point, and be concise all while providing the opportunity to answer questions and expand on thoughts.
A clear message also helps your audience. They help your audience pay attention, focus on you, and really think about how your points relate to them. It will also stimulate questions, help them dig more deeply into your content and make connections to their own interests. Your audience may also be able to repeat your messages more easily to friends and colleagues later.
There are a number of difference ways to organize or frame your message. Below are some examples. Regardless of how you organize or frame your message, remember this rule: do no harm. This is the first rule when communicating with a member of Congress. You want to make sure your issue gets a positive reception and that you do not cut your line of communication to your member of Congress.
Miniature, Memorable, Meaningful:
This method of organization is useful for when you have scheduled a meeting with your member of Congress. The scalable aspect of this method also makes it useful for longer or shorter communication opportunities.
Keep it miniature
This allows your message to be easy to be remember. In order to make your messages both miniature and scalable, we recommend organizing them around 3 key points (words/phrases) that can act as an outline. This then becomes your scaffolding upon which to build your broader message.
Keep it memorable
The key is to provide cues to make it easy to remember you. Use stories, visuals, or analogies to present complex information in easy to a memorable format.
Keep it meaningful
How research is meaningful to you in a way that can be conveyed with passionate enthusiasm. But it should also be meaningful to your audience and what it matters to them.
Specific, Brief, Timely
This method of organization is most useful for when you have a narrow window of opportunity to communicate your message, e.g., a phone call or a single email.
When you contact your member of Congress you should have a specific request. For example, please support/oppose this specific piece of legislation; support/oppose a nominee; support funding for this specific program.
If you chose to provide an explanation, then remember to be brief. Also, when possible, explain your request in the context of your district or state.
Personal narratives are impactful — why does this matter to you, to your district/state? Your narrative should be as brief as possible and should be polite and factual.
You should contact your member of Congress when the issue is actively being discussed in Congress. Otherwise, it is hard to focus on actions that the member of Congress can take.
You should also try to be aware of the legislative calendar. If the member of Congress is in DC, then call the DC offices. If the member is not in DC then call the local offices. You should note that the House and Senate calendars are not identical.
Effective Methods of Communication
You should only contact your members of Congress.
If your member of Congress sits on a relevant committee, then it is especially important to be in contact.
Do contact those members of Congress who disagree with you. If they never hear from anyone who disagrees with them, then they can assume that no one does.
Do contact those members of Congress who agree with you. Thank them for their position/action.
According to former congressional staffers, calls are better than emails. If you're going to send an email, then make it a personal email. Postal mail requires extensive security screening and is, therefore, not an effective method of communication.
Meetings in DC offices or in local offices are an extremely effective tool. That link directs you to some instructions about arranging meetings with policymakers and their staff.
Attend local town halls or other local events and participate.
Also refer to AAAS's Top Ten Rules for Working with Congress for more helpful information.
We are in tough economic and political times. Make an effort to speak to your members of Congress often. Be a vocal constituency. Express support, showing concern and sharing your personal story are excellent ways to engender Congressional support for our science.
Identifying your Members of Congress
Whatever the chosen topic and whatever the communication method you chose, the first step of communicating with your members of Congress is to identify your members of Congress. Residents of the 50 states (not the District of Columbia) have three members of Congress: One in the House of Representative and two in the Senate.
To find your representative in the House: Find Your Representative (Official US House of Representatives tool).
To find your senators: US Senators Contact Information (Official US Senate list).
Some additional resources that may help:
- AAS information about visits to the local Congressional office
- AAAS Advocacy Toolkit--includes more information on effective communication and impacting policy.
- AAAS's Working With Congress: A Scientist's Guide to Policy
- A sample phone conversation
- Advice from AIP about writing to a member of Congress
- Information from AIP about meeting with a member of Congress
- Information about Capitol Hill