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Some scientists and other experts think that advocacy is a “dirty” word. Why focus on persuading policymakers, drawing the public’s attention to “obscure” issues via a talk show or disseminating information via journalists? Let information and knowledge speak for itself….so to speak.

Here’s why.

We (citizens of the world) need a variety of perspectives engaged in discourse and decision making for all kinds of issues. We need people who are passionate about their neighbors and communities AND knowledgeable about the world to channel that energy, motivation and expertise into the translation of research into real world program and policies. With this kind of diversity in public engagement, we have a better chance of creating the best possible solutions.

Here’s another reason.

You  (expert in training) may enjoy working with people who have the same level of commitment you have for a particular issue or community.

As you explore potential jobs or careers, don’t forget to seriously consider opportunities with advocacy groups. You may find a professional home that is satisfying and rewarding on a variety of levels.

Notes

  • Some advocacy groups fund and/or conduct good quality research and reports.
  • If you decide to apply your expertise in an advocacy role (even as a volunteer or researcher), it may be a challenge to go back to a more traditional academic or research role that rewards “objectivity” or “non-partisanship.” That said, it can be done successfully and would be a great topic of discussion for your mentor…or a blog post (stay tuned).
  • In my opinion, advocacy and data or information should always have transparency. I.e., Everyone should know who sponsored or funded what.
  • Advocacy based on research or evidence is not the same as advocacy based on value, principles, religious beliefs, etc. All can be reasonable ways to create, evaluate and promote policies and programs and should not be confused with each other.
  • Similarly, all advocacy groups are not created equal. You need to collect information about each organization to ensure that you are comfortable with their mission, approaches, funding sources, etc.

More on This Topic (from a public health perspective)

Note: Since the articles below were published, health policy and other public health programs have supported more courses, training and research on advocacy and politics.

Advocacy in public health: roles and challenges (International Journal of Epidemiology, 2001).

Public Health Advocacy” (American Journal of Public Health, 2003)

“Political Strategy 101: How to Make Health Policy and Influence Political People” abstract (Journal of Child Neurology, 2001)

Example of a potential employer: California Center for Public Health Advocacy

[Also see “Networking is Not a Four Letter Word.”]

Do you agree? Should scientists or experts engage in advocacy? 

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