SciComm Participants Ready to Engage Decision Makers


Amber Caulkins of The College & University Research Collaborative explains how to share academic research with decision makers. (Photo credit: Zak Kerrigan)

You’re a scientist working on cutting-edge research that could inform future policies and regulations on important issues. So how do you get your work in the hands of decision makers?

Metcalf Institute held a SciComm Exchange, supported by Rhode Island NSF EPSCoR, at Brown University, April 11, to help researchers engage the state’s policymakers and legislators in their work.

Amber Caulkins, program director for The College & University Research Collaborative of Rhode Island, introduced SciComm participants to a range of new opportunities designed to connect scientists with state leadership. Caulkins and the rest of The Collaborative’s team help scholars translate their research to answer policymakers’ questions about issues affecting the state.

“Our goal is not to simplify the research, but to clarify it,” explained Caulkins. “It’s about giving people the tools to make informed decisions.”

The Collaborative was established to leverage the wealth of expertise residing at the state’s 11 colleges and universities. The goal is to provide policymakers with non-partisan academic research that supports decision making as they address the state’s challenges.


Photo credit: Zak Kerrigan

Researchers receive support and guidance from The Collaborative to help reframe their research find

ings for policy audiences, apply their expert knowledge in meaningful ways, and build compelling narratives about their academic work. There is also a graphic design team to help academic partners display their research in ways that resonate with the intended audience.

“Just because something is important doesn’t mean that it’s going to be on the public agenda,” said Caulkins. One of their driving questions is, “how do we take this information and describe it in a way that matters to people?”

“Researchers involved in this program come out of it as better science communicators,” Caulkins added. “We’re building the capacity of researchers in our state.”


Photo credit: Zak Kerrigan

To date, The Collaborative has published 39 research articles, working with 65 researchers from across disciplines and Rhode Island campuses. This research has explored issues in healthcare, energy, workforce development, manufacturing, regional competitiveness, arts and culture, social services, municipal services, criminal justice and education. The organization’s policy leaders include representatives from the Rhode Island Governor’s Office and the RI House and Senate who are responsible for identifying consensus research areas and questions.

The SciComm Exchange was timed ahead of The Collaborative’s upcoming deadlines for new project proposals. Responses to a post-program survey indicate that the session fueled participants’ interest in advancing their science communication skills and gave them a better understanding of how to engage policymakers

Rhode Island NSF EPSCoR conducts groundbreaking research and develops academic talent in the science and technology fields to increase competitiveness in research and development, build a more capable workforce and fuel economic growth in the Ocean State. Funded by the National Science Foundation and state contributions, RI EPSCoR brings together nine of the state’s public and private institutions of higher education in pursuit of a strong and sustainable marine ecosystem that serves as a foundation for Rhode Island’s economy and quality of life. Its partner institutions are University of Rhode Island, Brown University, Bryant University, Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, and Salve Regina University.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement #EPS-1004057.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are thosensf-plain-blue
of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.