Public Policy/Advocacy

AAA Public Policy Survey

Dear AAA Member:

A few short weeks ago, you were asked to participate in a short survey sent from the AAA Department of Public Affairs. Your responses have been collected, and we are very appreciative of your comments, suggestions and feedback on how to improve future surveys – including changes to survey methodologies, length and overall structure.

The past survey is the first of what we hope will become a new, interactive way to seek the opinions of AAA membership in how best to effectively meet the public policy mission and goals of the association. Your participation is crucial to this effort, and we thank you for the helpful feedback we have received thus far.

Overall, the survey was sent to almost 11,000 AAA members and 513 responded – a 4.6% response rate.

Generally, respondents felt that while the AAA Public Affairs Department is moderately effective in engaging members and providing forums and channels where public policy issues could be discussed, most were unaware of the online resources available to membership, and were neutral about the effectiveness of its staff.

Notably, respondents indicated that strong priority should be given to promoting specific actions in federal regulatory policy and setting best practices for anthropologists – two issues that the Public Affairs Department has been actively engaged in this year. Additionally, members assigned great importance to all of the public policy issues the department is currently engaged in.

The majority of responses came from the American Ethnological Society, the General Anthropology Division, the Society for Medical Anthropology, the Society for Cultural Anthropology, and the Archaeology Division, and individuals who have been AAA members for over 11 years.

In response to the question of how effective the AAA’s public policy and advocacy efforts are, respondents overwhelmingly identified AAA’s public policy and advocacy efforts as “moderately effective” in the areas of 1) facilitating AAA member engagement in public policy advocacy (36%) and 2) providing forums where AAA members can learn about AAA public policy initiatives (39.4%). A number of respondents indicated that the Department of Public Affairs is only “marginally effective” in producing outcomes that are visible to AAA membership.

Members provided a number of comments of this issue, a sample of which are reflected below:

Current policy practices appear largely reactive other than active, I would imagine largely for issue of available resources and the fact that AAA is a professional organization, not primarily an advocacy group by definition. The podcast does provide a great opportunity for increasing visibility in the future.

The one example that immediately springs to mind for me is the RACE initiative; other than this, I can not recall any effectively-organized and communicated public policy initiative coming out of AAA.

You need to implement online discussion boards where members of AAA can contribute to the debates and awareness of issues.

I have been made minimally aware, at best, of any of the AAA's ongoing public policy and advocacy efforts (i.e. often only find out about such things via after-the-fact press releases, etc.)

This year, AAA is dedicated to making public policy outcomes visible to the membership at large. Not only have we begin to feature public policy initiatives in eNews, the email communication sent out to all members, we have also featured breaking news in our blogs, podcasts and prominently on the www.aaanet.org homepage. Other efforts planned this year include a social networking tool that would allow AAA members the opportunity to participate in policy debates and share information.

In identifying and ranking the areas where the AAA should focus its public policy efforts, respondents assigned strong priority to influencing state or federal legislation, promoting specific actions in federal regulatory policy, influencing decisions by state or federal courts, and issuing policy statements on topical issues (such as fair labor standards, same sex relationships, etc). Members identified setting governance or “best practices” for anthropologists as the greatest public policy priority.

Respondents were then asked to suggest other areas where AAA should focus its public policy efforts. Samples of the responses appear below:

Encourage more op ed pieces, letters to editor.

Making non anthropologists aware of what anthropology is and what we do is crucial to our survival.

Education and funding in social sciences.

Intervening in international crises in a timely manner

While various AAA committees work on setting best practices for the discipline (i.e. the Committee on Ethics) AAA staff endeavors, on an ongoing basis, to communicate anthropological messages to audiences by working with the media and other message outlets, advocating for increased funding through its government affairs efforts on Capitol Hill, and staffing the Committee for Human Rights to support its efforts in combating human rights abuses worldwide.

In relation to the question of the effectiveness of online public policy resources (such as annual meeting media advocacy training workshops, online blogs, and webinars) in facilitating learning about appropriate Congressional or Federal staff members to lobby, learning and accessing advocacy and public policy-related information on the AAA website, or individual lobbying efforts, respondents overwhelmingly answered “not applicable” in rating the effectiveness of these public policy resources – suggesting that these resources are not well-known or used extensively. Of those respondents rating effectiveness of the resources (i.e. excluding those who answered “not applicable”) most rated all three categories as “somewhat effective.” Sample responses include:

I didn't even know I could use the AAA in this way!

I did participate in the recent advocacy webinar and I found it useful and enjoyed the web format.

I have never known of AAA public policy resources. These should be made more visible and accessible to AAA members.

A greater effort has taken place this year to make AAA public policy resources more visible to the membership at large. Members are invited to submit information for the bi-weekly podcast, suggest topics for future webinars, and contact staff with questions about the best way to interface with legislators. During the course of the year, AAA staff has made presentations on the best way to lobby state and federal legislators and plans are underway to publish an advocacy resource guide online.

When asked the question of whether or not the AAA should work in coalition with other organizations to establish its public policy agenda so it can focus on other issues of concern to the discipline, responses were almost evenly split, with 53% answering “true” and 46.7% answering “false.” Currently AAA works with a number of coalitions, including the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, to support its government relations efforts.

In indicating the level of priority the Public Affairs Department should give to the issues of human rights, rights of indigenous populations, civil rights, federal research funding, cultural resource protection, evolution/science and education, open access, publishing and intellectual property, academic freedom, higher education, environmental issues, international relations/foreign policy and national security, respondents believed that the highest priority should be given to issues of human rights, rights of indigenous populations, academic freedom and civil rights. “Great priority” was assigned to issues such as cultural resource protection, federal research funding, evolution/science and education, environmental issues, and open access publishing and intellectual property. The remaining category, national security, was seen as a “moderate priority” by the bulk of respondents. Thus, almost all of the areas identified were seen as important to membership.

Sample responses for other issues the AAA should address included health care (generally), HIV/AIDS, anthropology in countries other than the US, lyme disease and addressing economic disparities.

Public Affairs staff have worked over the course of the year to address many of the topical areas outlined in the previously stated question. For example, we have worked with AAA committees to address rights of indigenous populations. In addition, we worked with committee leaders and members of the Executive Board to comment on Federal rulemaking affecting cultural resource protection, and we advocated on Capitol Hill for additional funds for the National Science Foundation.

In judging the usefulness of the Washington Wire column and other articles in Anthropology News, AAA media relations/public affairs staff, policy statements, Executive Board statements, annual meeting sessions, committee/section meetings or the AAA website) in learning about AAA public policy and advocacy work, all of the categories were viewed by respondents as “somewhat useful,” with policy statements receiving the most support (48.2 %), followed by the AAA website (46.3%).

Members had a number of helpful suggestions about how to become more engaged in AAA policy work. Sample responses include:

Webinars and other remote presentations would help

I would like to know more ways for individuals to engage in the AAA advocacy work. Most seems to occur through sections. If there are more ways for individuals to engage with AAA leadership, I have not learned of them yet.

As previously discussed, there is an effort underway to conduct additional webinars to better engage membership. While it is true that a significant amount of public policy work is done by AAA Committees and Sections, members are always encouraged to contact Public Affairs staff to raise issues, discuss concerns and receive tips on effective advocacy strategies.

When asked to rate the effectiveness of  AAA Public Affairs staff in meeting the needs of the membership, the majority of respondents were “neutral” in their rankings of the effectiveness of AAA staff. Most respondents indicated that they were unsure of who made up the AAA Public Affairs staff, and asked for additional direct engagement with membership.

AAA staff is committed to responding to the needs of the membership, and this survey is the first step in fostering that relationship. Your survey comments and suggestions will be used to tailor Public Affairs activities in the future. Members are encouraged to contact AAA Public Affairs staff at any time if they have any questions, comments or concerns.