Citizens discuss science policy


Tech students and faculty brought the state’s major movers and changers together at the fifth annual Legislative Roundtable this Tuesday, Nov. 16, to make headway in science and technology’s incorporation into state and local public policy.

The Office of Policy Analysis and Research (OPAR) of the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) coordinated the event with the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), drawing together 150 industry representatives, state policy makers, students and faculty to tackle contemporary issues in technology and public policy.

Each roundtable focuses on developing a state strategic plan that incorporates science and technology in legislation.

“Collaboration between higher institutions, schools, legislators and researchers is important to strengthen this connection,” said Yujia He, a Ph.D. student in International Affairs, Science and Technology. “Tech and GTRI can play a very important role in creating new technologies to meet Georgia’s local demand, evaluating the use of technologies and stimulating interest of students and researchers to participate in policy-related projects, debates and careers.”

While OPAR identified state legislators active in the science and technology community, TAG attracted local industrial leaders. They then formed these leaders into four panels to discuss the four main points of emerging policy topics: transportation and logistics, health information technology, energy and education.

“You have information from both sides: the government and industry,” said Lindsey Hankins, policy analyst intern at OPAR and a fifth-year BME major. “With industry representatives, you get to hear about needs in the field and about the latest trends—for example, new technologies used. With government representatives, you get to hear about how policy is addressing the needs of industry and how policy is being used to progress trends.”

Moderators from Tech faculty and the state of Georgia help direct the panels, each including legislators—such as Georgia Senator Cecil Stanton—and industry representatives—such as Glenn Pearson, the executive vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association.

“One of the important points was that for both education and energy, Georgia has the resources to make a difference, but the question is how to use them, how expensive it will be for the state and the general public and also what incentives can be implemented to engage the community to take part in making these changes a reality,” said Hillary Alberta, policy analyst intern at OPAR and a PUBP grad student.

The roundtable included major student involvement on the coordination side, with student ambassadors like Hankins writing detailed reports for panelists.

“One of our most important functions was to prepare policy memos which contained information about national and Georgia-specific legislative progress relevant to the main topics of the roundtable,” Hankins said. “The purpose of the policy memos was to deliver the present and future in legislation while at the same time pinpoint where the legislation is lacking. The policy memos were written in hopes of presenting facts that opened discussion between the panelists.”

The students also helped with organization, escorting participants and panelists, providing refreshments and collecting evaluation forms. The student ambassadors all remarked on how the conversations seemed to heat up by the end of each panel’s discussion and wish they could be longer next time.

“I left with a sense of optimism and excitement. The panelists in each discussion all showed true passion for their fields, and both panelists and the audience have ideas on how to overcome the various challenges the state of Georgia currently faces,” Alberta said.

The roundtable lasted four hours and culminated in a summary session where all participants gathered in the auditorium for final commentary.

“Major results from this year’s event include stronger understanding of the role of science and technology in economic development, increased visibility for Tech and GTRI with state legislators and ongoing discussion around the need of a statewide science and technology roadmap,” said Marlit Hayslett, director of OPAR.

Altogether, there were nine industry panelists and 10 legislator panelists.

“The roundtable is a great place to see government and industry working together to benefit society. Open discussions like the ones this roundtable enabled are essential to real progress,” Hankins said. “Policy cannot be made with a blind eye to industry, but it’s hard to hear what industry has to say without outlets like this roundtable.”

OPAR and TAG also collaborated with the School of Public Policy, Georgia’s Center of Innovation for Logistics, the MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta and the Business and Technology Alliance to make the 2010 Legislative Roundtable possible.