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NCSL Grants Will Help States Launch Nonpartisan Science Policy Fellowships

The initiative promotes evidence-based policymaking by enhancing lawmakers’ access to science and technology research.

By Kaylee Pickinpaugh  |  June 22, 2023

State legislators routinely face science and technology challenges as they work toward informed decisions on important and complex issues. Problem is, scientific research isn’t always easy to access or apply to policy decisions.

“Legislators are drowning in data points,” Missouri Rep. Louis Riggs told NCSL’s first science policy fellowship advisory group meeting in May. From broadband access to online education, science and data can help lawmakers understand what works, he says.

To fill this gap, Missouri and other states are developing nonpartisan science policy fellowship programs to provide policymakers with enhanced access to researchers and their networks. NCSL aims to support such efforts through a new project, the NCSL Science Policy Fellowship Planning Grant Initiative.

“Fellowships like this are where we need to be going.”

—Missouri Rep. Louis Riggs

In May, the NCSL Center for Results-Driven Governing convened a bipartisan advisory group including legislators, legislative staff and science policy fellowship leaders, to advise on a state planning grant initiative. At the inaugural meeting, members provided firsthand insight on the value of state science policy fellowship programs and advised NCSL on creation of new resources, including a planning grant request for proposals.

“Good policy should be fact-driven,” Riggs says. “Fellowships like this are where we need to be going.” The nonpartisan, nonprofit MOST Policy Initiative offers both legislative and executive branch fellowships in scientific and technological policy areas. Fellows spend up to two years working for the organization, responding to legislator requests for science and technology policy research and analysis.

Advisory group member and New Jersey Sen. Andrew Zwicker says fellows in Rutgers University’s Eagleton Science and Politics Fellowship Program work alongside staff in legislative and executive branch offices, bringing valuable science and research skills to all policy issues, not just the scientific ones.

“I don’t like to pigeonhole fellows only in science and tech work,” Zwicker, a physicist, says. “As scientists, they take a hard problem and break it down into small parts—and this is a helpful foundation for any policy proposal.”

Zwicker championed the one-year program in the Garden State, where the Legislature provides a dedicated line item in the annual state budget.

The Grant Initiative

With the support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Center for Results-Driven Governing is offering up to eight grants in two rounds of funding. The grants will support state efforts to plan for the creation of a state science policy fellowship program like those in Missouri, New Jersey and other states.

In each round of funding, NCSL will award as many as four grants of up to $100,000 each to applicants pursuing planning, development or implementation of a full-time, doctoral- or terminal-degree-level science policy fellowship program serving the state legislature.

Applicants will have seven weeks to complete their proposals. The advisory group will convene again in late August to review applications and select grantees.

For more information, see this NCSL state science policy fellowship webpage and this planning grant resource containing registration details, application materials and FAQs.

Upcoming Opportunities

The Center for Results-Driven Governing will host two related sessions at the 2023 Legislative Summit in Indianapolis from Aug. 14-16.

In “How States Can Win the Numbers Game,” on Monday, Aug. 14, from 1:30-2:30 p.m., experts will discuss challenges that arise with data use, including navigating privacy laws, promoting buy-in, developing data-sharing agreements and identifying funding sources for data projects.

In “Pathways to Prosperity: Building a Data-Driven Workforce,” on Tuesday, Aug. 15, from 2:45-3:45 p.m., workforce development experts will discuss evidence-based approaches and tools to create a workforce pipeline to connect workers to high-demand science and tech jobs in state governments and the private sector.

Kaylee Pickinpaugh is a policy analyst in NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing.

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