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Tips when conveying your research to policymakers and the news media

Following up on a conversation regarding publicizing scientific research, Jim Savage wrote:

Here’s a report that we produced a few years ago on prioritising potential policy levers to address the structural budget deficit in Australia. In the report we hid all the statistical analysis, aiming at an audience that would feel comfortable reading a broadsheet newspaper.

In terms of impact, the report really hit the mark—front page of every national newspaper, and was the centre of political discourse for weeks. Longer-term, our big proposals were more or less adopted by both sides of politics.

Some strategies that we used that I think paid off (I can’t claim credit for these—my old boss John was a master at the dark arts):

A surprise to no insiders. We spent about a year on the report, talking to policymakers and those who’d be hostile to our ideas (lobby groups, mainly) throughout. By the time it was released, the insiders knew what to say about it, and we had good arguments against the detractors.

Prioritising in terms of political cost (as well as potential budget gains, economic costs) was well received.

– The “supporting analysis” deck was a hit with political staffers and journalists. We provided Excel files containing all the plots to any media outfit that asked. Anything that makes journalists’ jobs easier, sadly, will get more media time.

Briefing, briefing, briefing. In the two weeks before release, we took a 2-page summary (only charts) around to any journalist/politician who’d listen. That gave them time to write their pieces well in advance.

Apparently this is PR 101, but it was completely new to me. And I think the approach gave the paper a great run among those we wanted to influence.

These are interesting ideas that we can all think about when we have some policy-relevant results to convey from our research.

This seemed worth blogging, on the theory that our blog readers are, on average, doing good things and so we should spread these useful public relations tips. Positive-sum advice, I hope.

8 Comments

  1. Kyle MacDonald says:

    These all sound good. Another one is to never use the word “theory” in any context within ten feet of anyone in business or politics.

  2. Tom Passin says:

    I recently read that Catherine the Great of Russia, who was so very effective at improving Russia’s status both internally and globally, was recorded as saying that she never proclaimed a policy before she had worked with all the parties (nobles, etc) and gotten them to sign on beforehand. So she got very good support for what she wanted to do.

  3. Ben Prytherch says:

    “– Briefing, briefing, briefing. In the two weeks before release, we took a 2-page summary (only charts) around to any journalist/politician who’d listen. That gave them time to write their pieces well in advance.”

    This strategy gets used for ill means when it comes to drumming up advance publicity for lousy papers before the people who can spot the flaws have a chance to look.

  4. Thanatos Savehn says:

    WWAS about this? http://www.nature.com/news/sex-matters-in-experiments-on-party-drug-in-mice-1.23022 Maybe nature is so weird that crazy ideas ought not be dismissed out of hand though supported by nothing more than p<.05. Or maybe p<0.05 leads us to think the world is weirder than it really is … dunno.

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