From research to real-world impact: Lessons from the Science Meets Parliament program

Published On: June 2024Categories: 2024 Editorial Series, Editorials


Theresa Pauly

Simon Fraser University

Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Social Relationships, Health, and Aging

Disclaimer: The French version of this editorial has been auto-translated and has not been approved by the author.

Attending the Science Meets Parliament (SMP) program was an eye-opening experience for me. As a researcher, one of my goals is to ensure that my research does not simply disappear into obscurity (that famous file-drawer!). In terms of knowledge mobilization and translation, I have been dedicated to making research accessible to the public. For instance, I serve as the national editor for a blog that translates scientific insights within health psychology into easy-to-understand blog posts, available in about 30 languages. However, it wasn’t until I participated in the SMP program that I considered the importance of influencing policy. Ensuring that research reaches political decision-makers, not just the general public, should be a top priority. In this brief article, I will outline some key takeaways from this year’s SMP.

Building Connections

We were informed that the goal of this event was not to push any particular agenda but to provide opportunities for low-stakes interactions, conversations, and sharing of common interests to start building connections between researchers and politicians. I personally met with MP Jeneroux to discuss men’s mental health in midlife and old age, with Senator Deacon to talk about pressing issues with respect to long-term care, and with MP May about climate change and the importance of building community to help older adults cope with extreme heat events.

The SMP was a fantastic starting point, but long-term relationships require recurring interactions. I see tremendous value in promoting more events that bring MPs together with local scientists, not just in Ottawa but also in their constituencies. Through repeated interactions, trust can be built, enabling two-way communication that benefits both parties. Politicians gain access to expert advice on policy and regulatory decisions, while researchers receive feedback on public interest topics and learn how to make their science politically relevant and how it can be translated for real-world impact.

Contribution to Committees

One way to influence policy is through contributions to committees. On my day on the Hill, I attended a meeting of the Status of Women Committee, which was examining coercive behaviour and its potential criminalization. It was clear that the witnesses and experts selected to speak during these meetings could significantly influence the decisions made. Thus, I was wondering who picks those witnesses? Are researchers often invited?

Upon further research, I discovered that the committee had issued an open call for written briefs from the public (not exceeding 2 pages, ~ 1000 words). This seems like a easy but powerful way for scientists to have their voices heard in political decision-making. If such calls were communicated to relevant university departments, they could encourage their faculty members to make submissions. For example, if this call would be published in my university newsletter, I can imagine that scientists in the department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies would have important contributions to make. Writing up 2 pages seems fairly low stake, but with a huge potential for influencing far-reaching decisions (here: the criminalization of coercive behaviour).

Writing for Politicians

To effectively communicate with politicians, scientists need to learn to write in a way that politicians can understand. During a science communication session on our first day, we were shown a comparison of typical scientific writing versus optimal writing for a political audience. Scientists usually provide extensive background, methods, statistics, and a detailed discussion before putting forth a brief conclusion at the end. We were told that, in contrast, effective communication for politicians starts with the conclusion, backs it up with a bit of evidence, and then reiterates the conclusion.

In writing for politicians, scientists must also overcome their need for 100% accuracy and their reluctance to make absolute statements. Part of this is to better convey how much trust we place in scientific evidence. What if we could use a simple categorization system similar to nutrition labels (e.g., level of trust in 7 colour shades from red to green)? As scientists, we often strive for perfection and critically evaluate our own work, a trait that has contributed to our success. However, when it comes to disseminating our messages, it is crucial to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Learning to write these briefs could start early in one’s academic career, potentially even in undergraduate and graduate courses. One fellow delegate mentioned incorporating policy brief writing into their course curriculum, which I think is an excellent idea. I certainly plan to adopt including policy brief exercises in my own teaching, not only to help students learn science communication but also for me to improve my own skills.


Overall, the SMP program was a tremendously valuable experience and I have learned a lot. The program is currently expanding to the federal level, with a BC version implemented this year, and I encourage everyone to apply. Beyond learning about policy-making and connecting with politicians, I also appreciated interacting with leading researchers from diverse fields across the country. Conversations with fellow delegates during breaks, over lunch, and at dinner allowed me to gain new perspectives, discuss innovative research approaches, and explore potential collaborations. These interactions also fostered a sense of community among researchers dedicated to making a societal impact. A huge thanks to everyone at the Canadian Science Policy Centre, the SMP organizing committee, and all the supporters in parliament!