The MIT Policy Lab at the Center for International Studies (PL@CIS) recently launched a new MITx course entitled “Tools for Academic Engagement in Public Policy.” This short course on the edX platform provides a clear, concise, high quality resource for scientists and engineers who are seeking to inform the development of public policy with their research. By providing a basic overview of how governing bodies work, how policy is made, and specific strategies for impacting this process, the PL@CIS hopes to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for researchers to begin engaging with policymakers and increase their effectiveness at policy outreach.
The content of the course is informed by over four years of PL@CIS (formerly the International Policy Lab) experience working with MIT faculty to develop strategies for engaging with policymakers. The PL@CIS was created to ensure that public policies are informed by the best available research and that scholars understand the potential policy impact of their own work. This online tool seeks to take the lessons learned by the PL@CIS and make them available to the broader research community.
“MIT generates a lot of research with important implications for public policy that unfortunately doesn't always find its way into policy circles,” said faculty director Chappell Lawson, associate professor of political science. “Many faculty members here want to have an impact on policy but don't feel familiar enough with how the process works to do so efficiently. Creating an online educational tool to help connect the academic and policy communities is another way MIT can fulfill its mission of helping to solve the world's great challenges.”
This short course will provide an essential introduction to the policymaking process through the lens of the U.S. federal government, while providing specific steps researchers can take to engage policy stakeholders and articulate the policy implications of their work. It also includes community discussion forums to receive peer feedback on engagement strategies and to contribute to the online community of scientists interested in informing public policy.
“Academic training rarely covers the importance of engaging with policymakers or provides the tools necessary to do so effectively,” said Dan Pomeroy, PL@CIS managing director and senior policy advisor. “When I decided to transition to work in public policy after receiving a PhD in physics, I struggled to understand how to apply my skill set to this new field. The intent of this tool is to provide a resource for both people within academia wanting to engage with policymakers as well as scientists and engineers interested in pursuing a career in public policy.”
The mission of the PL@CIS is to develop and enhance connections between MIT research and public policy. The PL@CIS accomplishes this mission by helping faculty define realistic policy goals and develop effective outreach strategies based on these goals and the time the faculty member wishes to devote.
The PL@CIS then provides mentorship, staff assistance, and training to help faculty conduct outreach efficiently and effectively. In addition, the PL@CIS provides modest grants for MIT faculty members to translate their scholarship for policy audiences and to cover the costs of engaging with the policy stakeholders. All of these efforts are designed to maximize the impact of faculty members' policy engagements while minimizing the expenditure of faculty time.
This course was produced in partnership with Meghan Perdue, a School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences digital learning fellow, and with the support of MIT’s Office of Open Learning. It was also sponsored, in part, by Harvard Medical School's Scientific Citizenship Initiative, which works to make science more socially responsive and responsible by empowering scientists to collaboratively engage with and lead in their communities and society.