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Report from the SPSSI Central Office

Public Policy Report
By Christopher Woodside, Policy Coordinator

Hello from SPSSI’s Central Office in Washington, DC. It has been an eventful initial stretch for me as Policy Coordinator, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share that we, as an organization, are beginning to move in an exciting new direction with respect to bringing the important research of SPSSI members to key policymakers and advocacy groups.

While my initial Policy Coordinator’s Report focused strongly on the development of a new policy agenda for SPSSI, this time my goal is to describe how we have begun to implement many of those ideas in recent months. One of the most important early goals that we set out to achieve was to increase member communication and outreach efforts. An increase in communication between the Central Office staff and policy-minded members was critical to our success on the grassroots and national level advocacy front because the quick dissemination of information and quick response times can make all the difference in attempting to influence a time-sensitive policy issue.

I am proud to say that SPSSI has made great strides on this front with the advent of our Policy News Feed, an RSS-based communication tool capable of providing members with updates concerning issues of the day and news topics pertaining to the field of social justice (examples of updates have included event recaps, calls for experts, legislative updates, etc.). For more information about the RSS feed, visit the SPSSI website and click on the RSS link in the upper-right corner of the site. We have also regularly used blast e-mails to remind members of key events, happenings and dates of importance to our collective efforts.

As part of this ongoing process of ramping up our communication practices, we continue to work with the Policy Committee in efforts to brainstorm new methods of maintaining connectedness, including but not limited to such ideas as hosting advocacy resource workshops and developing advocacy “how-to” guides, initiating special interest policy list serves, and providing a host of other online resources.

An equally important order of priority in the implementation of our overall agenda has been SPSSI’s advocacy & coalition building work. One of the central planks of this initiative is the focus that we are placing on bringing the research conducted by SPSSI members to the attention of policymakers and other proponents of social justice causes so that they can use science to influence important legislation.

To that end, SPSSI has begun planning for the development of policy-friendly fact sheets built on JSI research that can be shared with congressional staffers and government relations experts in other organizations. In our first effort to do this, we worked with issue editor Kevin Lanning (JSI 2008, 64:3) to develop a fact sheet on voting rights/trends in the lead up to the November 2008 presidential election. The fact sheet was shared with many voter-advocacy organizations, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP, the Fortune Society, and others, and was used specifically in get-out-the-vote efforts by the ACLU and FairVote.

Other activities have included identifying a group of SPSSI members interested in offering expert testimony to Congress on the psychological toll of the current economic recession, and seeking congressional support through the office of Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-08) for the inclusion of at least one such SPSSI member in a future Capitol Hill hearing on this topic. We have also begun to conduct “calls for experts”on a variety of other timely policy issues including environment and energy policy, and labor equity issues within academia. In time, we will use the research and expertise of members involved in work in these areas to educate policymakers in Washington, DC, and in other places where SPSSI’s expertise can have an impact.

Our initial forays into the realm of advocacy have been equally broad. We are working on developing effective ways to introduce SPSSI to Congressional staff, who play such a big role in keeping the Members of Congress informed about issues like the ones in which our members have so much expertise. We recently contacted members to encourage involvement in an advocacy push targeted towards maintaining science funding levels jeopardized in negotiations on the economic stimulus package. The member response to this call was excellent, and you’ll see other action alerts from us in the future.

Overall the enthusiasm level of SPSSI members has been very exciting. You have contacted the Central Office about developing new member surveys and projects that will help us identify those most interested in participating in grassroots level advocacy work and having their research applied to policy development. The future implications of such member-driven projects are truly wonderful.

Coalition building has also been an important element of establishing SPSSI’s foothold here in Washington, DC. As Policy Coordinator, I regularly hold meetings with key congressional policy advisors to increase awareness of our capabilities and propose future teamwork. I also regularly attend events relevant to SPSSI’s mission, increasing our organization’s overall profile on Capitol Hill, and formulating connections with potential future policy partners. In addition to reporting back to membership after these experiences, I also use such gatherings as opportunities to better connect with advocates in other organizations supportive of SPSSI’s goals, and to build a network of contacts for future projects.

The road to becoming a better-known policy quantity in Washington, DC, and around the world is a challenging one, and it will take a significant continued commitment of time and energy by everyone within the SPSSI community in order to accomplish our ultimate goals. With the help of SPSSI’s passion passionate leadership, committees, and membership, the future is very bright indeed for our organization’s mission of sharing social justice research with those most influential to the policymaking process.

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