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Lawmakers Are Teaming Up With Scientists, Researchers to Create Data-Driven Policy

By Darci Cherry  |  February 2, 2023

State policymakers routinely face science and technology policy challenges as they work to make informed decisions on important and complex issues. Whether the topic is energy, health, transportation or education, relying on the best research and data can help decision-makers target resources to effective policies.

Yet scientific research isn’t always easy to access or apply to policy decisions. Evaluating and using data can require time and expertise not always immediately available to legislators and legislative or executive branch staff. To fill this gap, a growing number of states have launched nonpartisan science and technology policy fellowship programs to provide policymakers with direct access to researchers and their networks. These programs also offer scientists and engineers the opportunity to learn from and contribute to science and technology policy discussions.

Such programs apply the principles of evidence-informed policymaking through partnerships between scientific researchers and state policymakers, a strategy that aligns well with the purpose of NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing—to help states integrate evidence and data into the policymaking process.

Policy Partnership

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which shares NCSL’s nonpartisan mission and an interest in evidence-informed policymaking, recently awarded the Center for Results-Driven Governing funding to expand its menu of options available to NCSL members:

  1. For states currently operating science policy fellowship programs, the center will support a peer-learning network—providing opportunities to share best practices, tools and strategies for developing and managing state fellowship programs.
  2. Beginning in the spring, the center will offer planning grants for up to eight states interested in establishing programs. New states will also join the peer-learning network.

How Does a Science Policy Fellowship Program Work?

Many states model their programs on the federal Science and Technology Policy Fellowships, managed for the last 50 years by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. States structure their programs based on their needs and the expertise of their fellows. Most states recruit doctoral-level researchers interested in using their skills to support state government. Applicants participate in a state’s competitive selection process; once selected, fellows are matched with host offices.

In Missouri, fellows may spend up to two years working for the MOST Policy Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization where they respond to legislator requests for science and technology policy research and analysis. Fellows in Idaho commit to a one-year term in the legislative or executive branch, with an option to extend executive branch fellowships for an additional year.

Like many other states, Idaho and Missouri launched their fellowships by raising seed funds from multiple sources, including foundations, universities and private donors, which continue to fund operations. In contrast, funding for New Jersey’s Science and Politics Fellowship comes from a dedicated line item in the annual state budget and is administered by the Eagleton Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan research institution at Rutgers University.

The nation’s longest-running state science policy fellowship program is managed by the California Council on Science and Technology, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in 1988 at the request of the Legislature (ACR 162).

Regardless of the nuances of their fellowship models, the states’ goals are similar: to provide opportunities for scientists and policymakers to work together, to learn from each other and to integrate objective and reliable data and evidence into the decision-making process.

What’s Next for NCSL?

In the next few months, look for more information from the Center for Results-Driven Governing highlighting the work and characteristics of state science policy fellowships, including the planning grant initiative and opportunities to learn about fellowship programs at NCSL’s Legislative Summit.

Darci Cherry is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing.

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