ESAL Playbook: Research a Policy Issue or Initiative


  • Learn about a specific policy or initiative in your community that you find interesting.
  • Use the resources around you to delve deeper into a local issue.

Ideal Outcomes

  • Gain the skills to understand the details of policies that directly impact the place where you live.
  • Understand the political context for existing and proposed policies.
  • Become more engaged and active at the local level.

How To Get Started

  • Read your local paper.Regional and local newspapers are often overlooked in favor of national publications, but they can be a treasure trove of information. Your city, or even neighborhood, may have a local news source.

Tip: Scan your local publications to follow issues that you care about.

  • Visit your local government website.
    • Local government websites contain a whole host of resources including but not limited to: news updates, public programs, links to government agencies, as well as official documents and public meeting information.
  • Look up local organizations or nonprofits that work on the issue you are interested in.
    • There is often an organization in your area that is already working on the issue you care about, whether it be climate change, education, energy, land use, or something unique to your community. These organizations can offer policy-related knowledge or direct you to related sources.
  • Attend a public meeting.
    • To understand the issues facing your community, try attending a city council, agency, or committee meeting. County governments and state governments also conduct much of their business publicly. Meeting agendas are often posted ahead of time so you can see whether a policy of interest is being discussed. They can also be great places to meet others interested in the same issue.
  • Connect with local leaders and elected representatives.
    • Local elected representatives and government staff are very accessible to constituents. Take the time to network and talk to those who work on policies interesting to you. Learn about the issues firsthand from them.

Tip: Get face time by scheduling a coffee meeting with your city council member.


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Economist Researching and Drafting Policies for Better Retail and Public Health
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ESAL chats with Karen Gardner, economist, researcher, and policy analyst for better healthy retail public health policy.

Article - November 7, 2023
Bridging the Gap Between Science and Action
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In a recent conversation with ESAL, Kavin Manickaraj, chief data scientist at Greenlink Analytics, reflected on how his concern for the well-being of the local community and effects of climate change informs his science and career path. Learn more about how Kavin wants to bridge the gap between science and political action.

Article - August 7, 2023
Championing Inclusivity in STEMM
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Cynthia Prieto-Diaz, a biomedical engineer by training, actively contributes to scientific discourse by volunteering, engaging with city governments, and advocating for STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) involvement and consideration in local governance.Prieto-Diaz currently holds a position on the leadership team for 500 Women Scientists and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Cal Poly Pomona-Latin Alumni Network.

Article - June 4, 2023
Protecting Wetlands for Healthy Communities and Ecosystems
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On May 8th, ESAL and the Ecological Society of America co-hosted a virtual event centered around the urgency of protecting wetlands and their significance in maintaining climate resilience in the future. Learn about the ways the event speakers encourage public engagement.

Article - May 13, 2023
Nuclear Sector Deep Dive: Revisiting a Source of Carbon-Free Energy
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Learn more about the recent history of nuclear energy usage in the United States and how both national and state-level policies are shaping its future.

Article - March 11, 2023
COVES: Supporting People With Disabilities
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Biomedical engineering PhD student Casie Slaybaugh shares how she combined her science policy and personal passions as a fellow working with the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.

Article - April 29, 2019
Taking Your First Steps to Local Engagement
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Our latest playbook guide aims to ease your first steps toward local engagement. We share ideas and tips for learning more about how your local government is addressing issues you care about.

Article - March 12, 2018
Learning about Local Development Priorities
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Jennifer Boehme is a marine scientist and advisor at the International Joint Commission in Windsor, Ontario, which is a commission of the U.S. and Canada that has oversight of border waters. She attended a city council meeting to understand local priorities for sustainable development, green infrastructure, and mass transit.

Last Updated: Apr 28, 2019
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