Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hill Meetings: So easy a scientist can do it!

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern
This blog has made a point of giving you, the New Voices for Research, the tools you need to effectively communicate science with others. Yesterday, those tools were put to the test when I met with staff members from the offices of my congressional delegation. The tips, tools and advice from this blog made the experience easy, enjoyable, and most importantly, productive!

Here is a recap of some of the posts I found to be most helpful, and my reflections on them after having used them in action.

How to make an appointment with an elected official:
My meetings were with the Health Legislative Assistants (LAs) and Health Legislative Corespondents (LCs) for my congressional delegation. It is an exceptionally busy time in Congress this summer with major legislative initiatives and hearings. I willingly accepted meetings with the LAs and LCs because they usually serve a gatekeepers for information and requests to the members of Congress. The LAs and LCs I met with yesterday were exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable about the issues we discussed.

Key Tips:
  • When scheduling your appointment, ask the receptionist for name of the "aide who handles health (or science if that is your field) issues." Your goal is to get that LA or LC's name so you can ask for them directly in the future.
  • Most LAs and LCs manage their own schedule. You may need to leave a voicemail with your meeting request. In your voicemail, make sure to say, "As a constituent, I look forward to the opportunity to meet in person." Key word: CONSTITUENT
  • If you met with an LA or LC, be prepared for questions--these staffers were sharp and wanted direct answers to their own questions about my request.
  • Let the LA or LC know what issues you'd like to speak about ahead of time. This will give them an opportunity to prepare, and your meeting will be more productive.
How to have a successful meeting:
The best tip from this post is #3--have a specific and singular request. Congressional staff members are very busy, and I could tell they expected me to make one or two formal requests that they could act on. When I made those specific requests, I noticed the staffers wrote them down and underlined them.

Additional tips:
  • Request, justification/evidence, repeat request. This is the secret to successfully conveying your point. After greetings, introduction and small talk, I made my direct request. "I'm here today to ask the Congressman to do A and B." Then proceed to the details and justification. "A and B are important because. . . ." Finally, close your meeting by reaffirming your requests. "I appreciate your time and attention to my requests A and B." Request, justification/evidence, repeat request.
  • It is also helpful to have a printed handout with your request written in bold and underlined at the top of the page with justification/evidence below. Leave this handout with the staff member.
  • Close the meeting by asking if you can follow-up with the staff member in a week. This is giving them a soft deadline to meet. They may say they are busy, but do your best to get them to commit to follow-up in a week or two.
  • Don't forget to get the staff member's business card. If their email address isn't printed, ask for it. Email is often the best way to communicate with that staffer in the future.
Now that you have these tips - and I've done a test run - it's time to get to work! August is an ideal time to meet with your congressional delegation and staff while they are in your home district. Check back soon for a list of upcoming town hall meetings in August.

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