Computing Researchers Get Crash Course in Government Advocacy at CRA’s Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI)

By Matt Hazenbush, Director of Communications, and Brian Mosley, Associate Director, Government Affairs 

We live in a world dominated by computing. Many of the most significant problems facing the world and our country either have solutions in—or are caused by—computing. Yet, the nation’s elected representatives typically have limited knowledge of the field, creating a critical need for computing experts who understand how to effectively communicate with policy makers.

The Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI), held November 16-17 in Washington, D.C. by the Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC), addresses this need by providing computing researchers from academia and industry with a crash course in science policy issues and the mechanics of policy making. This year, 40 computing researchers from across the country took part in the two-day event, filling to capacity the hotel ballroom where they met.

“More than ever, computing researchers need to step up and become a part of science policy discussions,” said Fred B. Schneider, longtime LiSPI organizer and former chair of the department of computer science at Cornell University. “LiSPI gives members of the computing research community the knowledge, resources, and confidence they need in order to help shape national policy that concerns or that is affected by computing. Research funding is not the only area where computing researchers should be involved in the dialog.”

Featuring presentations and discussions with science policy practitioners, including current and former Hill staff and relevant agency and administration personnel, LiSPI walks computing researchers through how the legislative process works in practice and offers firsthand insights into how to interact successfully with agencies and advisory committees, including making the case for federal research funding.

“As a part of our mission, CRA seeks to develop the next generation of leaders in the computing research community, and a big part of that is giving people the skills and tools to be effective policy advocates,” said Peter Harsha, senior director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association. “CRA has earned a reputation for being ‘the organization of record’ for computing research issues in Washington, and that’s in large part thanks to our growing network of experts who are willing to volunteer their time to help educate lawmakers on important computing issues.” 

Insights from Insiders and Experienced Advocates 

This offering of LiSPI (which has been a bi-annual event) featured presentations and panel discussions from several key Washington insiders. 

Matt Hourihan, associate director of R&D and advanced industry at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), discussed the Federal budget process, including some of the challenges ahead for the community and how the current political climate is likely to impact science budgets. Later in the day, Julia Jester, deputy vice president for government relations and public policy at Association of American Universities (AAU) discussed how researchers can be best prepared to deliver useful input in meetings with policymakers, and Dahlia Sokolov and Heather Vaughan of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee talked about the unique difficulties of communicating the value of research to policymakers, as well as proper protocols for Congressional interactions and follow-up.  

“The practical advice provided by the program speakers was incredibly valuable because they all had real-world experiences to share that I can immediately apply in my communication efforts with both local and federal policy makers,” said Tammy Toscos, LiSPI attendee and director of health services and informatics research at Parkview Health. “As a scientist working at the intersection of computing and healthcare, I feel an urgent call to offer information in support of legislative decisions that can positively impact the health of our communities, and LiSPI helped me feel better prepared to do so.”  

Participants also heard from fellow members of the computing research community who have participated in policy advocacy, including in a candid panel discussion on advisory committees with Nadya Bliss (Arizona State University), Jeanna Matthews (Clarkson University), and Vivek Sarkar (Georgia Tech University).

Additional panel discussions covered interacting with agencies with Williams Scherlis (Carnegie Mellon University), Lynne Parker (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), and Susan Gergurick (National Institutes of Health), and embedding researchers into non-research agencies with Lorrie Cranor (Carnegie Mellon University), Suresh Venkatasubramanian (Brown University), and Stephanie Forrest (Arizona State University).

In addition, Cornell’s Schneider was joined by Greg Hager, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, to discuss providing congressional testimony, including reviewing and discussing clips from Hager’s 2015 testimony on NITRD Program.

Role Playing and Actionable Feedback 

On day two, LISPI participants got the chance to put their learnings into practice through role play. Each presented an elevator pitch that they had worked on the evening before, which was then critiqued by a review panel of former congressional staffers, including CRA’s Harsha, AAU’s Jester, and Kathryn Verona of Samsung Semiconductors.

“As a computer scientist and legal scholar, the conference’s role-playing exercise was a true revelation,” said Sonia Gipson Rankin, LiSPI attendee and professor of law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “Watching my colleagues bring forth amazing ideas vividly illuminated the legislative process. The workshop powerfully highlighted the role of researchers and scholars in influencing science policy, and this experience has inspired me to become a more effective resource for local legislatures and members of Congress, particularly in representing the needs of communities of color.”

Do you want to get involved in science policy and help to shape the future of the computing research community? Get the latest updates of what’s happening on the CRA Policy Blog or the CCC Blog. You can also sign up for alerts from the Friends of the Government Affairs Committee email list by sending a message to Brian Mosley ( in the CRA Office of Government Affairs. 

Computing Researchers Get Crash Course in Government Advocacy at CRA’s Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI)