We get calls from community leaders seeking information that they think will convince their state or local officials to take action. I wish I had a dollar for every person that told me over the years that if they could just get the right information in the hands of the politicians or government officials that those decision makers would do the right thing. If only that were true.

As a scientist, I provide technical assistance to grassroots community groups. People send me testing data to review,  whether it’s the chemicals found in their drinking water, the air behind their child’s school, or the soil in the park where their children play. They ask me to do this primarily because they want to know what the test results mean. But they also believe that information is where they will find answers to the many questions about the contamination in their community.

To be clear, science and information is important. People need to understand the facts, to know what they can about a situation, and to use information as the basis for their arguments or their demands. But equally important is understanding the limitations of the information and recognizing the fine line between facts and opinion. Science and information are critically important, but it is not enough to convince the decision makers to take action. It’s not the information by itself but rather what you do with it that matters.

Just gathering data and sharing information no matter how important or impactful will not likely change a bureaucrat’s or a politician’s mind. But if you use the information as part of a strategic plan, it can make all the difference in the world. If you use the information to educate your community and then go to the bureaucrats and politicians with a set of demands that meet the needs of your community, you have a much greater chance of success.

So, don’t get trapped into believing you can win over the bureaucrats or your politicians by just gathering information, or become frozen into inaction until you gather every little bit of information. Science and information alone will not solve your problems. What really matters is what you do with the information you have and how it fits strategically into your organizing plan. Don’t hesitate to reach out to CHEJ to further discuss this.