New Year, New Ways to Advocate: Arizona Science Policy Network Will Bring Science to Policy Virtually

Arizona Science Policy Network (AZSPN) has turned pandemic-related restrictions like social distancing into opportunities for growth and development of their organization! NSPN caught up with some of AZSPN’s leaders (Aliya Hoff and Griffin McCutcheon) to learn from their experiences and find out about the chapter’s plans moving forward.

What are Arizona Science Policy Network’s top policy priorities and how is the group addressing them?

We aim to be responsive to what our members want to work on since we view our mission to be helping students get involved in science policy and educating them about what options are available. We generally try to teach science communication and legislator/community outreach in the process of addressing different policy goals. If we are able to make concrete impacts on policy along the way, so much the better! All that said, we have historically prioritized issues regarding conservation, environmental justice, and public health. More recently we have also focused on voter rights and assisting local racial justice movements. We try to address these issues in a variety of ways so that our members feel comfortable engaging even if they are new to science policy or can’t make a big time commitment. With work related to environmental justice, we have focused on educating the public and reaching out to specific decision makers. In these cases we have hosted events like letter-writing happy hours, written policy memos and op-eds addressed to local leaders, and (pre-COVID) organized town halls where community members and leaders could ask scientists about environmental and public health issues. With voter rights and racial justice, we have sought out local groups with more experience and tried to make ourselves useful to them, for example by collecting and analyzing data and providing students with information on how they can become more involved.

What Arizona-specific or local policy issues is AZSPN involved with?

An issue of great importance to us is the Oak Flat Mining Project. For the past couple of years we have been trying to spread awareness of the injustice and environmental damage inflicted by projects such as the proposed Oak Flat Mine and the Rosemont Copper Mine (which was thankfully struck down earlier in 2020). Such proposals ignore local input, endanger local wildlife, and are detrimental to the overall health of the regions in which they are located. We also have many additional efforts run by our members. These include, but are not limited to, improved recycling in Arizona, stem cell clinic regulation, dust mitigation strategies, and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

How have the events of 2020 impacted AZSPN’s goals and activities?

A substantial change has been our ability to conduct direct, in-person outreach and connection-building with local communities. Our past activities have mainly included in-person events and we can’t safely engage in them at the moment. This has halted our town halls, shuttered our happy hours with community leaders and scientists, and greatly altered the format of our yearly “Science Day at the Capitol”. As a result, we’ve tried to use this time to focus on building a better organizational structure and creating more educational resources so that interested graduate students can get involved more easily and feel comfortable communicating their views on policy decisions. 

What plans does AZSPN have in the works for future events or initiatives?

Our major project at the moment is revamping our “Science Day at the Capitol”. In previous years, we would bring scientists and lawmakers together for roundtable discussions so that scientists could better understand the concerns that state-level decision makers have, and to build connections between early career scientists and our local representatives. With social distancing in place, we are trying to create an online version of this event so that we can protect both our members and our state representatives. In years past the trip to Phoenix might have dissuaded scientists from less-central portions of Arizona, but it is our hope this online format will encourage even more of our fellow science policy folks to attend. We are also working on revamping our member education to provide monthly training sessions on science communication.

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To learn more about Arizona Science Policy Network, check out their website and follow them on Twitter @AZSciPolNet.

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