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Using 'science notes' to share timely, relevant science with policymakers

Published on May 12, 2020

Policy briefs, memos, white papers, leave-behinds, 1-pagers.. all of these terms refer to specific ways to communicate written information in policy settings. However, when we set out to identify the best way to communicate science to state policymakers, traditional written outputs seemed to fall short in meeting our goals. Based on feedback from policymakers, we needed a format that would do the following:

1. Communicate science in an objective, nonpartisan manner;
2. Relay information at the right time when it was most needed;
3. Present science without an agenda; and
4. Be able to respond to questions as they arise.

At a stakeholder summit* in June 2019, we proposed to lawmakers that "science notes" could meet these objectives. Just as every bill introduced in the Missouri General Assembly requires a fiscal note to discuss any associated financial impacts of the bill, a science note will cover any relevant science associated with proposed legislation.

What is a science note?
Science notes will be short (1-3 page) memos that describe scientific principles related to policies or legislation. Each science note will feature non-biased scientific data and summaries of studies that have been conducted that may relate to proposed legislation.

How will science notes be shared?
Legislators and legislative staff will be the primary intended audience for the science notes, but they will be made publicly available on the MOST website.

In addition to sharing science notes with legislators upon request, the MOST Policy Fellows will also share the main points of sciences notes by testifying for informational purposes in committee hearings. We presented on one bill in Spring 2019 (H.B. 1335). Testifying also allows lawmakers to ask questions regarding the science and request additional information before making their decisions to vote or draft amendments to the bill.

Hallie Thompson testifies on a bill sponsored by Representative Kip Kendrick, both members of the MOST Policy Fellows Advisory Board.

How will we avoid science becoming political?

MOST Policy Fellows will present science in a non-partisan, independent manner and will work to build our reputation as a trusted source of high-quality, objective information. To assure that our independence and objectivity are not compromised, we will adhere to the following guidelines: 

  • We will provide information to lawmakers at their request, by testifying for informational purposes, or through publishing public facing documents that do not take a political stance on proposed legislation (per Missouri statute 105.470.5);
  • Fellows will be screened for their ability to remain open-minded, objective, and non-partisan, and upon beginning their work with the Missouri General Assembly, they will sign a code of conduct to serve as independent science advisors absent of personal political views;
  • Our non-governing advisory board will contain members representing the major political parties, as well as a member from both legislative chambers. We will have frequent conversations with these members and other members of party and chamber leadership in order to gain feedback on our program and assure that we are not compromising our non-partisan role. 

By following these guidelines, we hope to provide timely, objective scientific information to lawmakers. Our first class of fellows will be announced in June and will serve the 101st General Assembly.

*The stakeholder summit was hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center)

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