Science for Solutions is the heart of our mission at the MOST Policy Initiative and the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network. We want to bring science into policy conversations to help improve the health, economic growth, and sustainability of the people and the places of the state of Missouri. We believe science can be a solution to the troubles that are facing Missourians.
Science for Solutions means that we take a non-partisan, honest broker approach when sharing science with policymakers. The MOST Policy Initiative aims to be a trusted voice on science to inform policy, while respecting the important expertise that policymakers and their staff bring to the table as well. Legislators know better than anyone about the specific needs of their constituents, but we can serve as a resource when scientific questions arise.
MOST Policy Initiative co-founder, Rachel Owen explains, “there are a lot of unique challenges facing Missouri because we’re such a diverse state. The landscape between southern Missouri and northern Missouri is very different. Populations in urban areas are unique in contrast to the suburbs and rural areas.”
Climate change is at the heart of some of the biggest challenges facing Missouri. The rise in average temperatures is affecting each part of the state uniquely. In certain parts of the state, tick and mosquito-borne diseases move north because winters aren’t as cold as they used to be. And earlier spring and later fall may also mean certain insects thrive where they didn’t thrive before. The shift in temperature regimes will cause more illnesses such a Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. Owen says there are unique challenges in Missouri. “We have a lot of rivers in Missouri, including two huge rivers (Mississippi and Missouri rivers.) And those rivers flood frequently, we’ve experienced many historic floods in the last decade, which scientists project is associated with climate change.”
MOST Policy Initiative Fellows are in Jefferson City, providing Science for Solutions. The Fellows give legislators and their staff the support they need to understand scientific principles and scientific background of Missouri’s unique challenges. Owen says, “We serve a very niche function in Jefferson City. Our Fellows are there to answer questions specifically for state legislators and their staff. They answer questions about current bills, and can provide expert testimony.” Right now, there are 5 legislative fellows ready to give expert testimony, write science notes, and offer scientific expertise.
But there may be gaps in the kinds of knowledge the 5 legislative fellows can provide. “(In Jefferson City), those aren’t the only decisions being made in the state, and there are a lot of bills covering a lot of scientific topics. Our Fellows may not be the experts on all of those topics. It really benefits us at the capital to have a network of scientists who are interested and able to engage in policy conversations statewide,” says Owen.
The Missouri Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN) was created to fill those gaps. We’re building the LSEN by creating a statewide network of scientists and researchers who are experts in various topics. LSEN members can interact with state and local policymakers to provide Science for Solutions. They’ll give non-partisan science expertise and testimony on issues related to science and technology. LSEN members will also collaborate with MOST Policy Fellows to write science notes and provide guidance and expertise.
Another priority for the MOST Policy Initiative is to put a human face behind the science. Scientists are passionate about their science for a reason. “As often as possible, we try to get scientists and policymakers in the same room to help them find common ground and see humanity in one another. Just as scientists are motivated by a variety of reasons to learn how the world works, policymakers also have unique motivations to become a public servant. Learning those motivations help scientists and policymakers to have more trusted conversations.”