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James Marshall Scholar Report

 by Carrie Langner

In my final newsletter column, I am taking this opportunity to look back over my year as the James Marshall Public Policy Fellow and offer some reflections on my experiences translating science to policy.

Highlights from a Year in Washington

On World Poverty Day, October 17, 2007, I coordinated several Congressional visits for SPSSI members to discuss psychological research on poverty and related legislation. Our visits informed congressional offices of SPSSI’s resources while also addressing this important social issue. Members Heather Bullock and Beth Shinn shared psychological research findings related to poverty and homelessness. Congressional staff expressed interest in the intersection between socioeconomic status and several policy areas particularly investment in early childhood, Head Start, and gang-related violence and so we followed up by providing further information on these topics. These visits did not focus on a specific bill or program, but instead laid the groundwork for relationships between SPSSI and congressional offices concerned about poverty.

I was also able to work on an advocacy project involving later stages of the policy-making process. During my time working with the Hate Crime Coalition, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA) passed in the House and the Senate. The LLEHCPA (H.R. 1592, S.1105, also called the “Matthew Shepard Act”) would expand current law to recognize crimes motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; enable the federal government to address those cases that other jurisdictions are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute; and expand the scope of data collection and reporting guidelines regarding hate crime. We contributed to the Hate Crime Coalition’s efforts by sharing scientific knowledge on the impact of hate crimes and prejudice reduction. A fact sheet was created in collaboration with SPSSI members and distributed to congressional members. The fact sheet can also be seen on the SPSSI website (http://www.spssi.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewPage&pageID=941&nodeID=1).  Although the LLEHCPA was ultimately vetoed, this is the furthest that the bill has progressed during its history and the Hate Crime Coalition is well-positioned to advocate for it on the next round.

More generally, the experience of working with SPSSI members (marshaling your expertise for policy briefs and tapping into your civic engagement for calls to representatives) was a great experience for me both professionally and personally. It was rewarding to advocate for important policies with the unique scientific perspective that SPSSI members have to offer.

Policy Advocacy Challenges

• Most of the bills and programs that I worked on this past year were either vetoed or had funding cuts. This highlights the fact that securing a veto-proof majority is a formidable task and even favored programs may not receive enough funding in tight budget years. While these outcomes were disappointing, I hope that the efforts on behalf of these bills and programs laid some groundwork for future success.

• Another challenge I encountered was the translation of science to policy. Communication with policy-makers required a style of writing and presentation that was new for me. I believe this experience will be helpful to me in the future as I teach students about research and policy applications. In the first issue of Social Issues and Policy Review, Dovidio and Esses offer a very insightful discussion of this issue.1

• As a newcomer to Washington, it was difficult to establish and develop the contacts and social networks necessary for policy influence. By the end of one year, I had built some contacts in congressional offices, agencies, and coalitions, but could see what a time investment this aspect of advocacy can be. I am very excited about the plan to have a full time policy coordinator join the SPSSI office. This position has the potential to help future fellows with their transition to Washington, provide continuity between fellows, and maintain longer-term connections to contacts.

Lessons Learned

The federal policy world moves at a fast pace and it is important to be able to capitalize on quickly emerging issues. SPSSI is building up a stock of policy briefs and a database of member expertise areas that will help make responses to policy concerns more efficient. One of our strengths as an organization is that we have a broad membership base. Policy-makers want to hear from educators and scientists, but especially those they represent so we are lucky to have a geographically diverse membership.

I leave SPSSI central office confident that the James Marshall fellowship serves to further SPSSI’s policy agenda directly through advocacy projects and also in the longer-term by increasing the number of SPSSI members with policy expertise. SPSSI has the potential to have even more policy influence and is moving forward by bringing on a policy coordinator in addition to continuing to providing policy training for early career scientists (http://www.spssi.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewpage&pageid=594).

I will be starting as an assistant professor at Cal Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo this Fall and am looking forward to integrating my policy experiences with my teaching and research. I thank SPSSI for the opportunity to gain experience with science policy and represent SPSSI interests in federal policy and I look forward to seeing you at future SPSSI conferences!

1Dovidio, J. F., & Esses, V. M. (2007). Psychological research and public policy: Bridging the gap. Social Issues and Policy Review, 1, 5-14.


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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin