Schedule an Appointment
To request a meeting, call and ask to speak to the person who handles the Member’s schedule. That scheduler may request that you complete a form or send a written request, which is often the norm. Whatever the procedure, don’t be discouraged if it takes a few phone calls. The staff have to juggle a constantly-changing schedule, and the travel plans of the Member can change quickly if the Chamber keeps the Members in Washington longer than anticipated.
Create an Information Packet.
Your information packet can be a goldmine, as long as it gives congressional offices information that’s meaningful and easy to understand. Information packets should include a One-Pager, an American Psychological Association (APA) Briefing Sheet and copies of any university publications or local news articles that describe your research or request. Plan to make two packets for each scheduled visit, each packet labeled with your name (use your full title), your issue, your address in the representative’s district, and your contact information.
The following optional documents may also help you make your case.
APA Briefing Sheets.
You have, at most, 15 to 20 minutes to make your case. The APA Briefing Sheet summarizes official APA positions and requests on issues. Academic papers are usually not helpful; something short and written for a lay audience is best.
Write a successful One-Pager.
Educating your member of Congress about the research you do -- especially if that research is funded with taxpayer dollars—should be a goal of every psychological scientist. A One-Pager is a very useful and user-friendly tool in your kit and is valuable for in-person visits, media outreach, community organizations, lay audiences and more.
Written in lay language, your One-Pager quickly helps your member of Congress grasp your issue, frees staffers from having to take notes about your work, ensures the accuracy of information they have, and makes it easy for them to follow up with you.
Every One-Pager should contain:
- Your contact information – name, affiliation, address, phone number, email and website.
- A summary of your current research, including why that research is important, all in a context that a layperson can readily understand.
- A mention of which agencies/institutes support or have supported your work (federal and non-federal).
Your One-Pager should NOT contain:
Jargon—if no explanation follows.
Lengthy methodological explanations.
Assumptions of familiarity with your field of study.
Before Your Visit Checklist
- Contact the Science GRO at 202-336-6182 or firstname.lastname@example.org for the latest information about your issue and the best time to visit.
- Get to know your representative: What is his/her schedule? What are his/her pet issues? Where is his/her office?
- Schedule an appointment.
- Prepare information packets.
- Write a One-Pager.
- Include an APA Briefing Sheet.
The Day of your Visit
Message isn’t just king. It’s President, Senator and Congressperson. So here are the things you need to remember to make your message resonate with critical decision-makers.
What to expect.
The local office may not be as busy as the Washington office, but staff there work hard to solve problems of local constituents (these staffers are called caseworkers) and to represent the Member at local meetings and with local organizations (these staffers are called field representatives). Together, the staff work hard to stay on the pulse of local issues and communicate to the Member what he or she may have missed while away in Washington.
Be flexible. Members of Congress have crowded, busy offices. Sometimes there is an available conference room, and sometimes there isn’t. You may need to take the meeting in the hall, on a couch in the waiting area, or walking with the Member to an elevator.
And while you may be kept waiting, you should always be on time.
Be respectful to everyone. Even when you meet with a Member, staff will be present. Members of Congress depend heavily on their staff – and you will, too.
Even if the Member or staff check their phones during your meeting, good manners dictate that you leave your phone turned off and out of sight.
Knowing what to say is as important as knowing what not to say. Begin with a version of “I’m a psychologist who votes in your district.” Your credibility lies not only with your scientific or academic credentials but also with your status as a constituent.
Explain your issue in terms of programs that the member of Congress has voted on or that lie within the federal sphere, e.g. federal funds for research, training, immigration of skilled workers including scientists, regulations of nonhuman animals or human participants.
Be brief and clear.
Avoid scientific jargon.
It’s good to tell anecdotes that support your request. But facts tied to numbers, including economic impact, make your argument stronger. So share them.
Be specific. Let the congressional office know exactly what you want the Member to do: sign a letter, co-sponsor legislation, vote against an amendment. Do you have the bill number, name of the amendment’s sponsor? What consequences can be expected if your request isn’t granted?
Finally, confirm which staff person you may speak to when you follow up on your request, and be sure to get a business card from her or him.
Do mention if you have volunteered in the member’s campaign or donated, but you should never expect a quid pro quo. Don’t say “If you don’t do this, I won’t vote for you.” That’s understood, but it’s clumsy to blurt it out.
Use your social skills. Listen as carefully as you speak. Ask questions if the member or staff say something you don’t understand. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver, and if they ask a question to which you don’t know the answer, admit it and promise to follow up with the information.
Day of your Visit Checklist
- Travel in pairs.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring your map.
- Bring your schedule.
- Bring information packets containing One-Pagers, Briefing Sheets and relevant articles.
- Turn off phones.
- Turn on politeness.
- Stick to your message.
After your Visit
Congratulations, you did it! Now let’s make sure your message lasts far beyond your visit. Following up correctly with both APA and with the Member is key.
Following up with your representative.
If you met with a Member, send an email addressed to him or her, but copy any staff people you met (legislative assistant, scheduler) to be sure the note reaches the Member of Congress.
If you met with a staff person, send a thank-you email to him or her expressing gratitude for their time to meet with you – and using it as the perfect opportunity to reiterate points from the meeting, and include additional information you may have promised.
And if your representative votes on an issue the way you asked, thank them again, separately!
Note: Your email should include your address in the district, since Members of Congress only answer correspondence from their constituents. Otherwise, the volume would be overwhelming.
Following up with your team at APA.
Just click and send us this Post-Visit Evaluation Form so that we can learn more about your visit, understand how the person you spoke with responded to your message, and inform future advocacy.
After your Visit Checklist
- Thank you note to the Member and staff.
- Post-Visit Evaluation to APA’s GRO reps.
- Use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about your meetings on the Hill.
- Stay connected with APA advocacy efforts by signing up for Action Alerts, news sources like APA Science Policy News, Psychological Science Agenda, as well as following us on Twitter.