How Locally Engaged are STEM Professionals?

By: Nick Anthis, ESAL Vice-Chair
June 25, 2018
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For someone who wants to make a difference, the best place to start is close to home. From campaigning for candidates to serving on an advisory committee, civic engagement can be an enriching experience for everyone. We formed Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) because we believe that scientists and engineers can offer unique contributions to their communities and local governments--from providing technical expertise on specific issues, to bringing an inquiry-driven and evidence-based approach to problem-solving more broadly.

As we began to expand our efforts last year, we wanted to get the pulse of the STEM community, and find out to what extent STEM professionals were already involved in their communities and governments. So in fall 2017 we launched our Civic Engagement Survey to gauge attitudes and engagement with all levels of government by people with STEM backgrounds. We’re excited to reveal the results of our survey, available here.

I encourage you to check out the full report for more details, but I want to highlight three key findings and what we’re doing in light of them.

Major Finding #1: Scientists and engineers are more engaged with and informed about federal government than other levels of government. Respondents reported the highest degree of engagement at the federal level and the lowest at the regional level (with state and municipal in between). The results also revealed a major information gap. Although over 70% of respondents considered themselves well-informed about federal issues, fewer considered themselves well-informed about state (26%), regional (15%), or municipal (24%) government issues.

Major Finding #2: Scientists and engineers want to get more involved locally. The majority (93%) of respondents were interested in increasing their local government engagement. Of the various avenues of engagement available, respondents were most interested in serving as an expert advisor, joining a board or commission, or participating in local advocacy.

Major Finding #3: Scientists and engineers face various hurdles to engaging locally. The most common barriers to getting more involved were concerns about the time commitment and lack of knowledge about how to engage.

Together, these findings revealed three areas we need to increase:

  1. Knowledge of opportunities for local engagement
  2. Understanding of state and local policy issues
  3. Awareness of the role of state and local government in addressing national policy issues

Based on these results, ESAL is focusing its efforts on three types of activities:

  1. Sharing experiences and advice from scientists and engineers who are engaged locally
  2. Providing readily digestible and focused content about local engagement
  3. Aggregating information about local government involvement and volunteer opportunities

Some of the best examples of what we are doing in these areas are on our blog. Our "Stories from the Field" series highlights people who have made a difference locally, and our "Postcards" series provides examples of the first steps to local engagement. Our Local Engagement Checklist provides some discrete ways to engage by learning about local issues, meeting others in one’s local community and government, and then taking action to get more involved.

We will continue to expand these resources in the future as we work to fulfill our mission of increasing local engagement by STEM professionals. We hope you find these resources useful, whether you’re looking for ways to deepen your local involvement or you’re just starting out.

Ready to get more involved? Events are open to everyone and you can sign up for our listserv to receive updates from ESAL. If you’d like to help develop ESAL or have suggestions for future activities, please email us We love to hear from you!

Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) is a non-advocacy, non-political organization. The information in this post is for general informational purposes and does not imply an endorsement by ESAL for any political candidates, businesses, or organizations mentioned herein.
Published: 06/25/18
Updated: 09/26/22
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