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What is the Role Advocacy Should Play in APPAM’s Activities? | APPAM Leadership Blog Series

September 24, 2018 12:39 PM

Welcome to the APPAM Leadership Blog Series! Each month you will hear from our Executive Director, President or President-Elect, providing APPAM membership a behind-the-scenes look at how APPAM operates and how you can be more involved. Our authors will introduce new initiatives, discuss current policy topics and share resources they value. 

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Stagner,_160x160by Tara Sheehan, APPAM Executive Director

When you’re involved in the leadership at APPAM, you spend a lot of time talking about conferences, disseminating research, methods for performing research, ways to exchange research and how best to engage underrepresented and early career researchers and students. We discuss ways to connect researchers with practitioners and how best to support students as they transition to the world of work. Everyone supports these endeavors 100% and there is no gray area; these endeavors occupy a lot of APPAM’s time and focus, as they should.

What we do debate, time and time again, is the role advocacy could and should play in APPAM’s activities. The arguments largely fall into two camps: APPAM shouldn’t engage in advocacy activities because our members get their advocacy needs met elsewhere and wading into specific issues is sure to alienate some members; APPAM should engage in advocacy activities since our members’ research depends on funding and the outcomes impact policy and the policy-making process. While APPAM is a nonpartisan organization, it is not prohibited from issue advocacy or providing information to its members.

APPAM would hardly be the first non-profit social science organization to engage in advocacy activities. Population Association of America, American Educational Research Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science are just a few organizations that advocate on behalf of their members and try to engage the public in their missions. APPAM is a member of advocacy organizations like COSSA and COPAFS but aside from occasionally signing onto innocuous group coalition letters, APPAM doesn’t advocate or provide information its members could use to advocate on their own.

Should we? Surely a decision like this isn’t made without some information from our members; be on the lookout for a member survey in early 2018 that will ask for your opinions on this issue and many others, but I suppose the question isn’t that easy. What does advocacy look like for APPAM? Government affairs staff that speaks to federal and state officials on behalf of APPAM members? Formal coalitions around certain issues? Newsletters with information for members on certain policy topics? Tracking info on legislative issues? Some combination of all of these? Or should we stay in our conferences, fellowships, forums lane?

I do think APPAM should explore whether this makes sense for our members. Over the last decade, we have worked tirelessly to expand beyond just the Fall Research Conference and we have made a lot of progress. Perhaps this is just a natural progression for the organization, perhaps our members are being served by other organizations in this space, it’s hard to tell. But it’s worth figuring out. Politics and the political landscape, funding, legislation and the policy process are, for better or worse, part of the research continuum. And as they say, if you don’t have a seat at the table…


Tara Sheehan, APPAM Executive Director

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