Getting the MOST Out of Science Policy: Missouri Hosts Science Policy Fellowship in the State Government

The Missouri Science & Technology (MOST) Policy Initiative is an independent nonprofit organization serving the Missouri community. As we welcome MOST as one of NSPN’s Allied Partner Organizations, MOST Director Rachel Owen shares the organization’s past, present, and future goals.

The logo of the MOST Policy Initiative, with a small yellow plant sprouting up and several lines from cartoon data plots.

What is your organization's mission?

At MOST, we serve as a boundary spanning organization between science and policy at the state and local levels by providing resources, fostering relationships, and showcasing collaborative solutions. We aim to promote long-term health, sustainability, and economic growth for people and communities by connecting science and policy at the local and state levels - creating institutionalized collaboration and trust between the scientific community and decision-makers in Missouri and surrounding states. We do this through our core values: evidence-informed decision-making, transparency, accessibility, collaboration, equity, and interdisciplinarity.

What are some of your organization's current goals or projects? What are some recent or upcoming events?

We are currently focused on effectively working with the Missouri General Assembly through the MOST Policy Fellows program. Despite the pandemic, our five legislative fellows have been working closely with lawmakers and have already received over 30 requests for research and science related to pending legislation. We are also excited to be growing the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network. We already have over 200 scientists and researchers signed up for the network and began our first workshop series in partnership with AAAS this month on climate science communication. 

In January, we will be hosting a legislative outlook event to share the science-related legislation on the docket during the 2021 legislative session. We also plan to continue our SciTech Briefing Series next spring, where we will hold 5 expert briefings (via webinar) to share emerging science topics with lawmakers. 

On another exciting note, our fellows are currently working to start a science policy organization at the University of Missouri for graduate students and postdocs. They received a small grant to host a science policy workshop next spring. 

What is the general structure of your organization?

We are uniquely positioned with one foot at the university and one at an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Currently, all of our employees are based at the University of Missouri. I serve as the director, and we have 5 postdoctoral fellows and a program coordinator for the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN). We have a board of directors for the nonprofit, and advisory boards for the fellows program and LSEN.

Please tell us more about the MOST fellowship and the application timeline. What has your first year of the fellowship been like?

We launched the Missouri Science & Technology (MOST) Policy Fellows program this year and were excited to place 5 postdoctoral legislative fellows at the capitol in Jefferson City. The legislative fellows cover the following topics - agriculture, natural resources, and economic development; energy, environment, public safety, and transportation; health and mental health; children, families, and seniors; and education and workforce. The fellows cover a suite of committees in their topic areas and work closely with committee leadership and members. They don't formally work for the legislature, but they instead work as informal science advisors. They provide scientific information upon request from legislators in the form of science notes and testimony for informational purposes during committee hearings. Each fellow is also working on a project with a state agency. Two of our fellows are working with the Division of Energy at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, one is working with the Department of Corrections, and two are working with the Department of Health and Senior Services. 

Over the past four years, we've had so many conversations with legislators and staff to develop an effective state science & technology policy fellowship program. We have always hoped to fulfill two goals - 1) to provide a training opportunity for scientists and researchers seeking to make a career transition to policy, and 2) to provide accessible scientific information to policymakers to inform their decisions. We had a great orientation in September, and the fellows have been learning so much through 1-on-1 conversations, professional development, and on-the-job experiences. On the goal of informing policy conversations, I think we are right on track. We weren't sure what to expect since this is the first year, but we've had close to 40 requests for science notes already and the legislative session hasn't even started. I am absolutely thrilled that the fellows are consistently showing lawmakers that we can provide science that is accessible, transparent, and nonpartisan and in turn, lawmakers are spreading the word about our program and continue to ask questions. 

Our fellows are given the option to stay in their positions for a second year, so we may or may not be opening fellowship applications for the 2021-2022 fellowship cohort. If we do open applications for our legislative fellowship positions, they will open February 1st and close March 15th, with the fellowship class announced in May. We are also excited to add our inaugural executive branch fellow next year. The Department of Labor is interested in hosting a MOST Policy Fellow in their agency to work with the director on data management and subsequent internal policies using data that they already collect, but may not be using to its full potential. Applications for the executive branch fellowship position close on December 31st. 

How can readers best support your organization and its mission moving forward?

We would love for your readers to spread the word about our program, especially to soon-to-be PhDs who may be interested in a state-level science policy fellowship. I believe that our program is unique in that fellows are learning to work side-by-side with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and serve as science advisors outside of an official staff position. We are also happy to help other states discover how a science and technology policy fellowship program might work in their states, so readers can get in touch if they are interested in building a local program. Finally, check out our science notes! Our fellows and Local Science Engagement Network volunteers are working so hard to produce policy-ready information, and we'd love for others to read them and share them with state and local policy makers.

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To learn more about MOST, follow them on Twitter: @MOSTSciPol. To learn more about starting science and technology policy fellowships at the state level, consider joining NSPN’s State Fellowships Committee. For more information, contact statefellowships@scipolnetwork.org.

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