Be a Champion of Engineering and Science

6/6   in the series ChE in Context

Chemical engineers are key leaders and solution providers at the forefront of many of society’s greatest challenges. Navigating technical environments and promoting the best available information within the technical community for these challenges may come easily to many of us, but communicating these concepts and information to the broader world can be more difficult.

Conversely, legislative and regulatory offices are constantly presented with diverse issues upon which they must take action. No individual or small group of people begins with the in-depth knowledge and expertise required to create informed, strategic, and optimal rules or laws. They often must rely on experts who can distill the most critical information and serve as knowledge resources and advocates for a best path forward. Chemical engineers have great potential for impact in this area by generating and sharing salient facts to inform rules and regulations.

PAIC’s Advocacy Toolkit

Approaching regulatory and legislative bodies can be daunting for those not used to it. To empower and activate our members as communicators of robust science, AIChE’s Public Affairs and Information Committee (PAIC) has created an Advocacy Toolkit with an array of resources to support members who are looking to share their expertise with governmental decision-makers. This toolkit includes helpful one-pagers covering written, phone, and in-person best practices for scientifically informed advocacy, and also includes the AIChE Academy course Engaging Government 101.

PAIC has kept a pulse on key areas of interest to the Institute and its members, including process safety, advanced manufacturing, and climate change. AIChE members can draw from the Institute’s developed policy statements and white papers. These policy statements highlight important engineering concepts and include an analysis of relevant economic impact. Economic data — such as the number of jobs that may be created by the industry in question, the topic’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), or its role in global commerce — can be particularly helpful in supporting scientific advocacy discussions.

The key to effective advocacy

A key component of effective advocacy is using clear and approachable language that describes what the issue is, why it matters, and what the resulting action should be, without superfluous detail. Don’t just write to offer general assistance.

Consider writing a physical letter to your member of Congress or a web letter through their official senate.gov or house.gov website. Be sure to write your own senator or representative, whose office will almost certainly take it seriously; don’t write someone who does not represent you, as the letter may be discarded. Begin the correspondence by respectfully greeting the member of Congress, identifying yourself as a constituent, and mentioning any credentials that support your insight on the topic — like being a chemical engineer. You should not cite being an AIChE member, simply to avoid the impression that you are speaking for AIChE.

Introduce the topic, cite relevant studies or information relating to the topic (like PAIC’s white papers or infographics, available within the online toolkit), and point to a path forward. If applicable, you can use economic data to frame the impact a piece of legislation or regulatory action might have on the representative’s constituency. The letter should close cordially and offer your contact information, should the member’s office need additional information; this step is also helpful in developing a rapport with your corresponding representatives as you advocate for topics over the years.

Engaging in outreach

A helpful fact to keep in mind when engaging in outreach — whether in writing, by phone, or in-person — is that you are often corresponding with the legislator or administrator’s staff. These staff meet with and talk to countless people on any given day. The more concise you can be in your message and your request, the easier it will be for them to prioritize your request.

In addition to personally engaging with government entities, you can mobilize others around your issue by elevating reputable, expert voices on social media or in your local publications, and distilling the information to something understandable to the general populace. It is also our duty to be transparent where data are not available, are uncertain, or would not advance a sound understanding of the best available science.

Access the toolkit

The PAIC hopes that the launch of the Advocacy Toolkit is just the beginning of the conversation and looks forward to hearing from you on what other resources would help you become a champion of engineering and science. We encourage you to contact PAIC with ideas and questions at paic@aiche.org.

Access the toolkit and other resources from the PAIC.

This article is also featured in the ChE in Context column of the January 2023 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.