Kavi Chintam, Legislative Outreach Chair of Northwestern’s Science Policy Outreach Taskforce (SPOT), discusses how SPOT’s Science One-Pager Initiative (SOPI) provides factual, unbiased, and concise summaries of scientific topics to legislators via a by-request service.
In 2018, in the interest of helping Illinois legislators integrate science into their decision making, SPOT started a grassroots effort to engage with policymakers directly. After visiting Springfield for an initial evaluation of current practices, we deemed that there was no set, unbiased way that staffers and legislators obtained information regarding scientific issues. Our team worked with a freshman representative to determine the best way to bridge the gap between policymakers and scientists. Through the support of our first representative contact and the interests of other freshman representatives, we concluded that providing succinct, factual, unbiased scientific information was necessary. Thus, SOPI was born.
Through this program, Illinois state legislators can contact SPOT with science policy questions related to current and proposed legislation and constituent concerns. In response, SPOT provides the legislator with a one-page brief describing the scientific facts underpinning the policy in question. By relying on the broad expertise of graduate students from Northwestern and the University of Chicago, we are able to match each legislator’s request to an appropriate writer to address their scientific concern. As graduate students trained in the unbiased review and analysis of scientific literature, we are able to carefully identify peer-reviewed sources to provide legislators with non-partisan perspectives on each policy issue.
Thus far, we have completed 15 one-pagers, with topics ranging from the public health impacts of HPV vaccines to air quality concerns in Chicago. We are currently in direct contact with 16 representatives, primarily Illinois state house members, and are seeking to expand our reach into the Illinois state senate. To date, we have traveled to Springfield twice to promote this service and develop our connections with legislators. Additionally, to enable more oversight and ensure the quality of SOPI services, we are creating a review board composed of graduate students from Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Moving forward, we plan to include more Illinois universities in SOPI to broaden the diversity and expertise of our graduate student writers.
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