Photo: Dr. Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde with the Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Science and politics do not always mix well; however, it cannot be denied our lives are deeply impacted by both and their collaboration. Sometimes, all we need is a good conversation. On November 6th, 2018, the inaugural Canadian Science Meets Parliament event was held at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Modelled after Australia’s Science Meets Parliament, that has run for 19 years now, the Canadian iteration was organized by the Canadian Science Policy Centre in partnership with Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer. Science Meets Parliament is an event that brings researchers and parliamentarians together to start a dialogue by sharing their respective knowledge. Dr. Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde, a Laurentian professor and researcher in applied evolutionary ecology, was one of the Tier II Canada Research Chairs selected from across the country to participate in this initiative.
“There were 29 of us from all kinds of disciplines. All kinds of different people. At least half were women. Lots of people of colour. It was a really diverse group,” said Dr. Schulte-Hostedde. “It was really humbling to be there, because there were a lot of people doing really cool stuff.”
The researchers had a busy day! They participated in a workshop led by the Institute on Governance--a non-profit think tank that focuses on improving governance--and a panel of parliamentarians on how to communicate with policymakers. The next day, the researchers met, shadowed, and observed Members of Parliament alone or in small groups.
“It was emphasized that we were not to lobby for anything. This wasn’t what this was about. This was about starting a conversation between politicians, MPs, and scientists,” said Dr. Schulte-Hostedde.
Dr. Schulte-Hostedde met with two Conservative MPs, Jim Eglinski and Colin Carrie, and later on the in the day with the head of the Green Party, Elizabeth May. He found his meetings with the Conservative MPs challenging due to their differing political priorities, yet insightful because of their contrasting life experiences and knowledge. The meetings were a rewarding experience, where both researchers and parliamentarians had something new to share with the other. Whereas the parliamentarians learned more about how research funding is distributed to Canadian researchers, Dr. Schulte-Hostedde learned that making policy decision strictly based on evidence-based research is a challenge because of the many priorities an MP is held accountable for.
Photo: Dr. Schulte-Hostedde with Dr. Mona Nemer
Moving forward, the Canada Research Chairs invited to the inaugural Canadian version of Science Meets Parliament are working on a paper that documents their experiences at the event. As for bringing the lessons learned closer to Laurentian University, Dr. Schulte-Hostedde is now working to invite the Institute on Governance to teach researchers to better communicate with parliamentarians.
“The way you communicate your ideas to politicians and other policymakers is completely reversed to the way [scientists] do. For example, when writing a scientific story, you start with a theoretical foundation and build up evidence to a crescendo. With a policymaker, it has to be the reverse. Give them the take-home message and explain how you got there, rather than building up your argument to the [ideas],” he said. “These kinds of strategies are what they taught us during this workshop, and that’s why I want the Institute on Governance to come here.”
Group photo of all the participants