Most importantly, said Newman, psychologists should start
thinking of translation as a new competency. Newman asks her
graduate students to imagine they’re at a cocktail party and must
summarize their dissertation, for example. “I drill them on how
to talk about their research in three minutes,” she says. She also
asks students to create jargon-free fact sheets about their work.
Translating psychological science effectively can also help state
and national legislators make more informed policy decisions,
said psychologist Brian Baird, PhD, founder and president of
4Pir2 Communication and a former six-term member of the
U.S. House of Representatives.
Although psychology is central to addressing such societal
challenges as climate change, education and national security,
said Baird, psychologists aren’t being as effective as they could
be in conveying and applying their findings. “We punch way
below our weight,” he said.
To be more effective, psychologists should understand
policymakers’ situation. “They’re overwhelmed,” said Baird. “I
may meet with you for 15 minutes; next it’s Iraq, then Social
Security, then nuclear power, fisheries and on and on.” Make
your research relevant to the policymaker by saying how it will
improve something and be worth the taxpayers’ money. Ideally,
relate it to an upcoming event, such as a bill’s reauthorization.
Telling a compelling story is also key, said Susan Hattan, who
spent almost three decades as a Senate staffer.
Stories don’t just help legislators remember what you’ve
told them, said Hattan, now a senior consultant at the National
Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Stories
also help put a face on an issue. They help build connections
between you and the legislators and their staff. And they can
help people understand your issue and correct misconceptions.
“The old joke on Capitol Hill is that the definition of a fact
is two numbers and an anecdote,” said Hattan. “Storytelling is
how to get your message to stand out among the multitude of
issues on Capitol Hill.”
For Diaz-Granados, the key message to Congress is how
relevant psychological science is to everything they do.
“Psychology has a connection to lots and lots of fields, and
so should be at the forefront of people’s minds,” he said. “That
should be an antidote to getting lost in translation.” n
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