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Science Meets Parliament

By Dr Mischa Turschwell, Research Fellow

Thanks to the Australian Society for Fish Biology, I had the privilege of attending Science Meets Parliament earlier this year. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 my hopes of a chance in-person encounter with a famous politician were dashed, but nonetheless Science Meets Parliament 2022 still managed to deliver an action packed week of virtual presentations, workshops and masterclasses. As per the name of the event, the majority of activities focussed on how we—as scientists—can better engage with decision makers. I got to hear from physics whizzes Professor Brian Cox and Kirsten Banks, as well as Nobel prize winning immunologist Professor Peter Doherty.

The real kicker was having the opportunity to have an hour-long meeting with a Minister. I was paired with Nationals senate whip, Senator Perin Davey who was genuinely interested in my science. We discussed the challenges of environmental watering in the Murray-Darling Basin, and spoke about some of the cool science and technology emerging in Australian waters through the Blue Economy CRC. Senator Davey gave me some great advice on how to engage with MPs and senior decision makers. Here are a few of the top tips:

Keep it simple. Remember, a lot of parliamentarians don’t have a scientific background so keep the terminology simple and only discuss 1-3 points. Keep any written pitch to 1 page and always make sure you have the evidence to back up your claims.

Focus on the solution. A large majority of the time when scientists get the chance meet decision makers or politicians, they focus on asking for/complaining about a lack of funding. Turn the tables and instead focus on pitching your expertise as solution to a problem (then hopefully the funding will flow!).

Be respectfully persistent. Pollies are a busy bunch. If they haven’t responded to you, it’s probably slipped their mind. They will not mind if you follow up and persevere with your enquiry, just make sure you engage in a respectful manner. The old saying goes, ‘persistence pays off’. Localise the issue. Can you translate what your science means in a local context? What does it mean for their electorate? Make your pitch personally relatable as having a vote attached can be hugely influential.

Differentiate key players (decision makers) from your target audience. We tend to focus on target audience (which of course is key for wider science communication), but often decision makers will need a different form of engagement (see points above about politicians being busy).

At the time of writing, I haven’t yet attended the Gala dinner but lucky for me that’s an in-person event so maybe I’ll get that chance encounter after all!

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