We’ve said it before: scientists have a lot to contribute to policy discussions. Policymakers welcome candid, cutting-edge information, and you really are the best one to share your research because you have the passion, the knowledge, and the expertise. Our blog has lots of tips for what to do once you’re in the room with a policymaker – from understanding your own bias and role to describing your work and field within a policy context – but how do you go about getting that meeting in the first place?
Policymakers are busy people, whether you’re seeing a congressional committee staffer in Washington, D.C. or your district representative for your state legislature, so it’s important to make your initial outreach clear, concise, and salient!
Here are our recommendations for crafting an effective meeting request over email:
1. Identify who you want to meet with and know your audience
Your reason for reaching out should be logical and you should make the connection for them in your email. Some great reasons include being their constituent, researching something that touches on their constituency or a topic that they’re interested in, or having a mutual contact that recommended you connect with them.
You can find your members of Congress here, and their individual websites will tell you more about their district and the topics that matter to them. The Library of Congress provides links to all of the state legislatures here.
2. Keep it short and put key information in the first couple of sentences
In science, we’re taught to provide all the background before getting to our results, to show the progression of logic that led us to our conclusions. But if your reader only has time to skim, you can’t bury your meeting request in a lot of background about your research. Make sure the most important things – who you are, why you’re contacting them, and when you’re available – are front and center.
You can always attach your relevant publications to the email (and this can be helpful later, since many policymakers don’t have subscriptions to academic journals or databases).
3. Give clear options for meeting times
If they can’t easily figure out when you’re available, scheduling a meeting will become too time-consuming for them. Provide a couple of different, specific time ranges (“I’m available on Tuesday, April 4th from 1 p.m.–3 p.m. ET, or Wednesday, April 5th from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. ET,” for example), so that they have something they can check their availability against quickly. Be sure to translate your availability into their time zone, and identify the time zone used, for additional clarity.
4. Make the subject line descriptive
In the same spirit as the above, you want it to be clear from the start why you’re getting in touch with them. A vague subject line is unlikely to get clicked on when they’re sifting through hundreds of emails a day.
5. Don’t be afraid to reach out again
If you haven’t heard back, it’s likely because your email got buried in the onslaught (did you write a descriptive subject line?). It’s perfectly appropriate to try again and get to the top of the inbox.
When you should get in touch again depends on how far out you’re trying to schedule the meeting. If you’re asking for a meeting in a few months, wait a week before emailing again. If you’re asking for a meeting in a couple of weeks, wait a couple of days.
Of course, in addition to scheduling your meeting, you’ll also want to identify and practice your main points, think about your ask, and be prepared for questions about what your science means for policy!