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Tip Sheet: Correspondence and Personal Visits

Effective Communication with Congress

Meeting with a Member of Congress, or congressional staff, is a very effective way to convey a message about an issue such as the value of the National Science Foundation to the nation.

Meeting Guidelines

  1. Dress appropriately. Follow the DC dress code. Business attire is the norm on Capitol Hill.
  2. Be on time and be prepared to wait. Changes in the legislative calendar and office activity often necessitate Members and their staff to deal with other things.
  3. Be prepared and succinct. Most meetings will last only 5-10 minutes so plan on getting to the point quickly.
  4. Use a short anecdote or offer facts that illustrate your main point, such as the value of the National Science Foundation to the state or district. (e.g. the state receives X NSF $ each year; examples of new knowledge brought about by NSF).
  5. Limit the presentation. If coming as a group, select a spokesperson and a common strategy to come across as a cohesive team. Not everyone participating in the meeting needs to speak to get the talking points across, but complementary examples across the disciplines are valuable.
  6. Don’t monopolize the conversation and don’t patronize or complain to the Member or staff.
  7. Follow-up the meeting with a thank-you letter to the Member and staffer and offer to be a source of information in the future.

Correspondence Guidelines

Keep it concise; a one-pager is best, two pages maximum.

State the purpose of the letter up front and focus on only one subject area. Back your position with the remainder of your letter. If the subject is a specific piece of legislation, cite it by name and bill number. Note the likely ramifications of the legislation and, if possible, suggest a better approach. It is easier for congressional offices to respond to letters that address specific legislation. They may not know what to do with general “information” on a topic not tied to legislation. Ask for the legislator’s views.

The suggested address style is:

The Honorable [name]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable [name]
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Letters send via the USPS take a very long time to make it through the security put into place since the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill in 2001. It is advisable to send your communication via fax or email. When sending a letter via email, be sure to note that you are a constituent in the subject line.

ESA Policy Training Workshops


How to participate in public policy and communicate with Congress (Baltimore 2015)

ESA will offer a policy training workshop during the Baltimore centennial meeting. The workshop will provide participants an overview of national-level opportunities to participate in public policy, from weighing in on congressional legislation to providing input during public comment periods on federal regulations.  An overview presentation will be capped by mock congressional meetings to give workshop participants an opportunity to test their communication skills.

Participating in Public Policy (Minneapolis 2013)

ESA offered a policy training workshop during the Minneapolis annual meeting. The workshop provided participants with an overview of national-level opportunities to participate in public policy, including congressional legislation and federal regulations. Several mini-lectures were capped by mock congressional meetings to give workshop participants an opportunity to test their communication skills.

Reaching Beyond the Ecology Bubble: How the Ecological Society of America Can Help You Connect with Other Important Groups, From Policymakers to Community Leaders (Portland 2012)

This interactive session emphasized communicating ecological information that resonates with decision makers and other important groups, using tips outlined in the ESA publication “An Ecologist’s Guidebook to Policy Engagement.” The session featured speakers experienced in working with policy, media, and other entities outside the ecological community.

Introducing ESA’s Guidebook on Effective Communication and Policy Engagement (Austin 2011)

This session at the Austin Annual Meeting featured several speakers with experience in policy and science communication. It showcased key elements covered in the recently released ESA policy and communication guidebook, including opportunities to: engage in policy at local, state, and federal levels; provide timely input to environmental laws; interact with federal agencies; and effectively communicate in meetings, written correspondence, and in the media. After the presentations, participants were invited to “speed date” by rotating from table to table and interacting with speakers and other experts to gain additional insights on interacting with decision makers, resource managers, and members of the press.

Step Up, Speak Up: Policy Training Workshop (Montreal 2005)

ESA teamed up with the American Society for Oceanography and Limnology to offer a Policy Training Workshop during the Montreal Annual Meeting. The workshop was designed to equip biological scientists with tools to participate in public policy. Scientists were coached in methods to influence policy, concluding with simulated congressional visits.

Public Policy Workshop at UMD (Solomons Island, MD 2005)

ESA and the American Society for Oceanography and Limnology offered a policy training workshop at the University of Maryland ‘s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in January of 2005. About 25 students and faculty participated in the workshop which featured short presentations on the policy process, followed by break-out group activities. Mock visits with congressional offices allowed participants to practice meeting with policymakers and to effectively hone their message of the importance of environmental research.

Policy Training Workshop (OBFS/ ESA /AIBS Appledore Island, ME 2004)

About 23 members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations participated in a training session for field stations staff who wanted to learn some important features of making their cases to elected officials. The day-long course was offered by ESA and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.