An aerial view of the Sacramento Capitol Building at sunrise

A Year of Providing Science Advice to Lawmakers

Reflections on how access to actionable science can support lawmaking

By Kiya Bibby

In early 2021, after 20 years of providing science advice to executive branch state agencies, Ocean Science Trust expanded to deliver science services to lawmakers in the Legislature. As OST staff leading the launch of this program alongside my coworkers, it’s been a thrilling year of meeting with representatives and their staff, deciphering the legislative process (spoiler: it is not always straightforward), following bills (offshore wind, plastic pollution and nature-based solutions were hot topics), and working with scientific experts to distill the latest research into digestible advice.

In the first year of this effort, OST has provided formal expert briefings, facilitated conservations with scientific experts, and offered individualized responses to representatives and their staff questions on a wide range of ocean and coastal topics including oil & gas decommissioning, kelp loss, and blue carbon (see here for more first year highlights). We’ve also been thrilled by the response from partners and funders, who immediately grasp the value of this program and OST’s unique position to carry it forward.

Looking back, here are a few things we’ve learned about strengthening access to actionable science for lawmakers:

  1. Solutions > Information: In most cases, lawmakers are interested in solutions more than information that diagnoses the problem. They want to know how science can point to an appropriate policy response. The most common question we get from lawmakers when sharing science perspectives across various topics is: so what do you think we can do about it?
  2. Audience matters: At the same time, staff and representatives have varying levels of experience with coastal science topics and, as generalists, must stay up to speed on a wide range of topics. Science advice can be as much about correcting misperceptions and establishing shared understanding of baseline knowledge as it is about highlighting nuanced solutions.
  3. Experts are needed: There is a need for pathways for ocean and coastal scientists to engage with lawmakers in California and for support in doing so effectively and strategically. Best practices for brokering impactful science/policy conversations include deploying good science communication practices as well as being savvy to relevant activity across both executive and legislative branches.

As we look to future years of this work, OST is committed to improving our services to further cultivate a vibrant relationship between science and lawmakers.

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