Organizing a Science Policy Workshop: What we learned in Bozeman, Montana

January 22, 2019 | 9:09 am
Tim Evanson
Emma Kate Loveday & Racheal Upton

The Bozeman 500 Women Scientists pod held a science policy workshop in February 2018 for 30 female scientists from all career stages, undergraduate to professor and government-based scientists. Sound intimidating? Here’s how we got there.

In the summer of 2017, Emma Kate Loveday, Racheal Upton, Kelsey Wallisch Simon, and Chloe VanderMolen became the acting leadership for the local 500 Women Scientists pod. The 500 Women Scientists pod in Bozeman, Montana, meets regularly to act as a local support network, make strategic plans, and take action within the community. 500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization started by women scientists, with the goal of promoting equality for female scientists and decreasing the anti-science agenda in global, national, and local politics. The group was founded following the November 2016 election, when the national leadership published an open letter re-affirming their commitment to speak up for science and women, minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA individuals.

Making the initial connection and building relationships with policymakers

When the four of us pod leaders stepped up to run the Bozeman pod, we were very interested in working with local policy makers to make sure that science had its place at the table when legislation was being crafted. We quickly discovered the process of policy making is not straightforward, leading us to want to develop a further connection with local politicians to gain greater insight into the process. How could we expect scientists here in Bozeman to work actively to support policy-makers within such a confusing framework? So we applied for and received funding from UCS to hold an all-day science policy workshop for female scientists in all career stages. And boy, did we have an amazing workshop!

Planning a workshop

One of our main objectives for the day was to bring policy makers in from both sides of the aisle to discuss openly how they utilize science in their policy making decisions.

But before we could have our workshop, we had to do the groundwork. Here are some highlights we recommend for planning a workshop:

Timing: Our planning started with laying out the framework of what we imagined a successful day looked like. We started the workshop at 10am so everyone did not feel to rushed for a Saturday morning workshop. We worked out breaks and lunchtime and planned to end our formal workshop at 5pm but continue it with a happy hour at one of our local breweries!

Speakers: The four of us met up every Sunday over coffee or beers to prepare for the workshop. We utilized our own networks in Bozeman to touch base with local politicians and nonprofit groups that had legislative experience. One of the amazing aspects of Montana is the ability to reach out and interact with our state policy makers. We were able to locate speakers with relative ease that were more than happy to participate in the workshop.

Logistics: We set up an online google form for registration and located a space associated with Montana State University for holding our event. In addition to setting up the space, food and speakers, we wanted to provide on-site childcare. Both myself (Emma) and Chloe have young children and it can be difficult to do activities such as this on the weekend. So we booked a teacher from my daughter’s daycare for the Saturday and offered fully paid childcare for this event; expanding our attendance to a greater range female scientists! It was an important aspect that we felt should be offered at all scientific conferences and workshops. We contacted the more than 100 women from our local Bozeman pod members to advertise registration and the 30 slots for the workshop quickly filled up.

Teaching women scientists how to get involved in the legislative process

We started our workshop with a discussion featuring Zach Brown (Democrat from Bozeman) and Walt Sales (Republican from Manhattan, a small town about 10 miles west of Bozeman). Brown helped us reach out to Sales, a multi generation rancher, and we could not have had a better duo to discuss different perspectives on important issues such as climate change, water policy and how they incorporated science in general. Following, Kathleen Williams gave us the nuts and bolts of policymaking: an overview of how a bill becomes a law in the Montana government, how she as a state legislator tries to utilize scientific input, and where and how scientists could reach out to the state government to provide insight into proposed legislature. Joanna Nadeau, from UCS, gave an overview of how local and state policies connect into the federal system. After lunch we heard from Beth Kaeding at the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), a non-profit that works with ranchers across the northern plains, who provided a scientist’s perspective on policymaking. As a member of NPRC, Kaeding had attended every legislative session for the past decade and has provided expert testimony during the committee and rule making process. She is an expert in the state government system and was highly knowledgeable how to work within it. One of the key takeaways from Kaeding was that there are multiple opportunities to provide expertise in the legislative process. Initially we believed that we would need to get in from the ground up when bills are being drafted, but we can also provide expert testimony at committee hearings, where policy makers consider whether or not to advance a bill to the house floor. There is also a great opportunity to provide information and expertise during rule making meetings, which occur after a bill has passed.

Following Beth, David Quammen, a world-renowned science writer and author, provided insight into how to communicate our science with both the public and policy-makers. This was further explored with expert advice from Dr. Shannon Willoughby and Kent Davis, both professors at Montana State University and authors, in which they explored the way to “storytell” scientific expertise to the general public. Each of our invited speakers was excited to spend a day with a group of women scientists and learn from us as much as we wanted to learn from them! All of our speakers spent the majority of the workshop with us, giving attendees extra opportunities to meet and have more in depth conversations with them. The commitment from each of our speakers was unexpected and reflects our community’s appreciation of science. We finished up the workshop with a happy hour. All the ladies that were able to attend the happy hour had a better chance to get to know each other and discuss the day’s events.

What success looks like

We were so excited to have female scientists from all career stages, from undergraduate to professor and government scientists, attend the event. By having a broad range of individuals in the audience we were able to address how you are able to participate in the policy-making process at every career stage. All of our participants said that they had a better understanding of the political process in Montana following the workshop. Our participants also appreciated the opportunity to see and meet people in government and realize how approachable and kind they were to the attendees and to each other. With the partisanship that plays out daily, this aspect struck a chord with the majority of our attendees, as reflected in our follow up surveys. Overall, our participants provided very positive feedback and we are getting requests and inquiries to see if we are going to hold a follow up workshop in 2019. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to hold this unique event in Bozeman, MT and it has instilled a desire to continue to work towards science-based policies in our local 500WS pod that continues today.

Since the workshop the pod worked on a get out the vote campaign that was headed up by a few participants from our workshop and included a discussion with local candidates in October. We continue to nurture and maintain relationships with the speakers from the workshop and hope to work with them more as the Montana legislative sessions returns in 2019. While our path ahead to continue our work may feel daunting at times we are invigorated by the local community’s support for our cause and the overall need to continue this important fight.

Dr. Emma Kate Loveday is a postdoc working on single cell virology at Montana State University in the laboratory of Dr. Connie Chang. Dr. Loveday earned her B.S. in biochemistry from Suffolk University on Boston and her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia. Her time in Canada provided a unique perspective on US politics. Dr. Loveday is also the leader of the Bozeman 500 W.S. Pod. Follow her on Twitter at @DoctorLoveday, or the Bozeman pod @Bozeman500women.

Dr. Racheal Upton is a postdoctoral researcher with expertise in microbial ecology, particularly above and belowground interactions in prairies and cropping systems. Dr. Upton earned her B.S. in molecular biology from Millersville University, PA and her Ph.D. in microbiology from Iowa State University, Ames, IA. She has a strong passion for mentoring the future generation of female scientists and engaging with her local community. Dr. Upton is one of the co-leaders of the Bozeman 500WS pod and serves as the representative for the local pod to the larger 500WS organization. Follow her on Twitter @erbforscience. 

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