How to Influence Public Policy

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The process of changing ethics guidelines has been a learning experience for the Feminist Health Care Ethics Research Network. Participants gained insights into the process of trying to ensure that gender and other variables such as class and race be addressed in public policy. As well as Baylis and Downie, Susan Sherwin, professor of philosophy and women's studies at Dalhousie, made recommendations on behalf of the Feminist Health Care Ethics Research Network. Also all three gave lectures on the topic of ethics in medical research in order to stimulate open discussion on the issue of women and health research.

As researchers and experts in women's health issues, many of us have opportunities to influence the development of public policy in its development stage. Some practical tips include:

  1. Get in the Loop: Make suggestions at the draft stages of public policy wherever possible.

  2. Persistence Pays Off: Follow up by asking to see each draft and comment where gender equality recommendations have been excluded. Stick to your agenda.

  3. Strength in Numbers: Work with other stakeholders who share your concerns.

  4. Push the Boundaries: Recommend changes even if they appear to go beyond a limited scope. Ask for deadlines to be extended if necessary.

  5. Go Public: Let others know what public policy is being debated; give interviews, deliver speeches, write articles on your recommendations or encourage widespread debate in other ways.

  6. Stay in Touch: Establish and maintain open channels of communication with the power brokers, keep informed about "backroom" processes where final decisions are often made.

An excerpt from the January 1998 Tri-Council Policy Statement:
Article 5.3
No woman should be automatically excluded from relevant research. Researchers and REBs (Research Ethics Boards) shall endeavor to distribute equitably the potential benefits of research. Depending on the themes and objectives of the research*, researchers and REBs shall:

  1. apply equitable criteria in selecting criteria and recruiting women from disadvantaged social, ethnic, racial and mentally of physically disabled groups; and
  2. ensure that the design of the research reflects appropriately the participation of this group.

* the words "depending on the themes and objectives of the research project" indicate that [the] Article is relevant to some, but not all, research.