Personal stories that demonstrate the benefits of research are powerful examples to share with policymakers to increase support for public health, according to panelists at a town hall hosted by Research!America at the 2016 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting on October 31.
The session, moderated by Research!America president and CEO Mary Woolley, featured public health leaders and practitioners who shared their perspectives on ways to engage policymakers.
“Members of Congress want to hear personal heartfelt stories, preferably from their constituents,” said Robert Youle, former board chair, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. He added that public opinion surveys which show a majority of Americans strongly support greater investments in biomedical research are also well-received by policymakers, especially those who understand the importance of federal support in advancing research.
Understanding the concerns of elected officials and the problems they are trying to solve is also critical in building relationships and finding common ground on issues that align with the goals of your organization. “I think that gets you much further down the road than just asking for what you need,” said Julie Gerberding, M.D., MPH, executive vice president for strategic communications, global public policy and population health, Merck; former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That’s the starting point for successful negotiations.” She also recommended working with the broader business community, particularly employers who care deeply about the capacity to find cures and solutions to chronic disease and have a stake in how health resources are being allocated.
Some panelists agreed that highlighting economic data linked to research can also be effective in conversations with policymakers. “The more [information] you can share about the economic benefits of public health research, the more they will feel motivated to act,” said Morgan McCloskey, MPH, project coordinator, health, wellness and fitness, Colorado State University. “This argument addresses an interest the policymaker has which is economic development in their constituency base,” added David Goff, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Dean, Colorado School of Public Health. He also noted that the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health has released a report for the next presidential transition team that includes four broad goals: 1) ensure all Americans have the opportunity for a healthy life and invest in social determinants of health (education, production of healthy food, stable housing), and eliminate health inequities; 2) educate the next generation of skilled public health professionals; 3) increase investment in public health research; and 4) strengthen U.S. leadership and investment in global public health.