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Report of the Visibility and Impact in Policymaking Workgroup

1 February 2011 No Comment

Visibility and Impact in Policymaking Workgroup Members
Ann Cannon, at-large member
Mike Cohen, Committee of Representatives to the AAAS
Mary Gray, Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee
Sally Morton, 2009 ASA president (chair)
Steve Pierson, ASA director of science policy (ex officio member)
Duane Steffey, at-large member
Ron Wasserstein, ASA executive director (ex officio member)
David Williamson, Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee
Alyson Wilson, at-large member

Health care, climate change, education … How can the ASA be prepared to speak about emerging policy issues? 2010 ASA President Sastry Pantula appointed a workgroup to find out. The Visibility and Impact in Policymaking Workgroup’s charge was to “standardize the process for identifying emerging issues and for providing timely response in the areas of public policy and science policy in collaboration with the ASA director of science policy and the other statistical associations.” Members of the workgroup considered the process of identifying policy issues, developing position statements, and communicating the ASA’s perspective. They then reported to the ASA Board during JSM 2010, providing the recommendations below.

With statisticians spread throughout industry, academia, and government working on a vast array of topics, statisticians could speak on a variety of policy issues that arise each day. Members of the workgroup emphasized the need for transparency in whatever approach was adopted and recommended that the ASA provide a means for members to understand the process leading to a science policy action.

To assess where to best place ASA resources, group members found two classifications of policy topics to be useful. They defined issues to be proactive or reactive and urgent or recurring. Members of the workgroup recommended that the ASA focus on proactive and/or recurring issues to start with, anticipating that once a process is in place to deal with such issues, the process may be adapted for reactive and/or urgent issues. They further categorized ASA policy actions as addressing four situations:

  • Societal issues through statements, endorsements, and/or recommendations
  • Outreach to Congress, decisionmakers, the media, or the public through informational pieces
  • Promotion of statistics
  • Actions on professional and other issues of importance to statisticians

The ASA should make soliciting and forecasting issues part of the association’s culture; such permeation will require a significant amount of outreach and education. ASA chapters, committees, and sections are vital to the process. Members of the workgroup suggested using multiple channels to educate members about how they can be involved, including an “opt-in” policy email list and outreach materials such as email examples to sections and chapters.

Chapters are particularly attuned to local issues. For example, members of a Michigan chapter engaged ASA leadership in their efforts to include more statistics in state curriculum standards.

Committees and sections follow specific topics relevant to statisticians. For example, the Committee on Privacy and Confidentiality (CPC) alerted the ASA to the news that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be reconsidering its HIPAA privacy rules. The association wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the role statisticians play in this issue, resulting in the CPC chair being invited to participate in an HHS workshop on the topic.

When considering the best vehicle for how the ASA should be heard, members of the workgroup suggested the policy issue be concretely defined, including defining the audience (e.g., Congress; policymakers at the federal, state, or local level; policymakers in the executive and legislative branches; the media; teachers at various educational levels; statisticians; or the public).

There are many ways for the ASA to be heard on policy issues, including board statements or endorsements, white papers, letters from the ASA president, personal contact (e.g., phone call or visit), op-eds, educational pieces, and ASA website material. Products should take into account varying attention spans, as well the quantitative sophistication of the audience. Members of the workgroup recommended the ASA partner with other professional societies via joint statements, letters, and other activities when it is mutually beneficial and when the combined effort will have a stronger impact than separate efforts.
Developing the statements or other policy vehicles requires significant contributions from ASA members.

It is important to recognize these contributions and ensure broad involvement across the membership—and not just the usual suspects. Members of the workgroup recommended the ASA continue to educate members on the nature, importance, and impact of ASA policy work; recognize volunteers and their products; and provide ASA staff assistance to the extent possible. The ASA also might consider developing a funding mechanism to support policy activities.

At present, ASA staff members prepare a press release and policy board statement, identify other potential audiences, and reach out to other policymakers as appropriate. The ASA also keeps federal statistical agencies and the Office of Management and Budget informed if the issue involves a federal agency. Dissemination needs to be continuous to be effective. Outreach efforts should be broad, including board statements and endorsements, press releases, briefings for key policymakers and staff, op-ed pieces, engagement of policymakers via hearings and legislative action, and engagement of ASA members to disseminate information outside the Beltway.

Beyond the current efforts, workgroup members recommended the ASA maximize the effect of statements by the following:

  • Consulting policymakers early in a process so any deliverables are most helpful to their needs
  • Furthering the use of ASA web pages for outreach, beyond current science policy pages
  • Developing a policy speakers program
  • Engaging ASA members in disseminating information
  • Ensuring statements address why statisticians and/or statistics are particularly relevant to the policy issue

The ASA strategic plan states, “Decisionmaking discussions in public policy and science policy must be guided by sound data and statistical analysis. The ASA and the statistical profession should actively participate in these discussions to promote the use of appropriate data and effective methods, and to ensure that the statistical sciences receive an appropriate share of public funding for scientific research and education.” The ASA can play a key role in promoting “the need for sound statistical practice to inform decisionmaking in public policy and science policy.” Workgroup members hope they have helped the association progress in this pivotal role.

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