Meeting with Federal Agencies that Fund Research

Typically, meetings with these types of agencies are for updates and discussion – they can be operational and less focused on research.

Before meeting with agency staff, make sure that the agency carries out programs or services relevant to you, and ensure that the agency in question has authority over your issue. For the purposes of this manual, we will focus on engaging with federal agencies, but note that some issues may be more relevant to state or local agencies. Agency staff at all levels are looking for and interested in building new relationships.

Also, do some background research on the agency. Getting on their listservs, reading public statements from the agency if there are any, and looking for budget documents would be helpful in your research. Looking up task forces and looking for program officers can also direct you to the right place. Narrow down individual staffers to contact and take note of their name and role. 

Tips for Reaching Out

  • Initial email should be short and concise
  • Make your motivation for reaching out clear
  • Avoid politically charged language – agency staff want to avoid being lobbied
  • Include a policy brief, if possible. Do not include a journal article.
  • Expect to be persistent
  • Be straightforward about requesting a meeting

Once connected, use them to build your network – use your network at the start to find warm ties. FABBS can serve as a resource for this!

Formal Interactions

These are often between an agency and a university/research group and are contractual agreements. These are mutually beneficial relationships. Researchers in institutions or groups can earn grants, access to data, and a built-in opportunity to connect and collaborate with agency staff. Agencies use research conducted in this space to establish their priorities. Agencies that have had particularly beneficial partnerships can sometimes extend their contracts, renew funding, or include the researchers in future projects. 

Informal Interactions

Agency staff can consult researchers in their network to answer pressing questions or provide contextual information for a given topic. Agency staff typically source expertise from their networks. Some staff look for publications, and some reach out, but they have limited time to do so. Note that staff take caution when they connect with someone new because they do not want to give the impression that they are able to offer payment or funding if they do not have the budget or the authority to do so. As a result, building informal relationships and becoming an agency staffer’s “go-to” expert will take time and effort.

Ways to Make Informal Connections

  • Existing Formal Partnerships (e.g. agency staff reach out to a researcher with a grant from their agency)
  • Conferences (agency staff that attend research and policy conferences are self-selected – they have a proven interest in research)
  • Community Organization Partners
  • University Resources & Government Affairs Offices