Building Ecosystems: Policy Entrepreneurship Fellow Christopher Gillespie

Christopher Gillespie was deep into his PhD work in soil ecology and soil biogeochemistry when he heard about FAS’ Day One Project and decided to take a crack at writing policy.

Excited by the prospect of combining the rigor of his science training with his passion for dismantling systemic institutional discrimination, he applied for Day One’s Early Career Science Policy Accelerator and was accepted. He completed his policy memo on urban revitalization, “Putting Redlines in the Green: Economic Revitalization Through Innovative Neighborhood Markets”, in the summer of 2022. “Redlining” may be a term that evokes zoning policies of the mid-20th century, but its effects are still being felt today in communities of color, and its legacies are still costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Gillespie’s memo detailed a five-step action plan for addressing inequity and decreasing the burden on taxpayers.

“I was able to use all my lived experiences, and my understanding of the sciences, both economically and in terms of bioinformatics,” he says. “And that was really cool for me, because I was able to really take all these different areas and create an interdisciplinary approach to change.”

But one taste of policy entrepreneurship wasn’t enough. “Once I finished [the policy memo], I just wanted more,” he says.

Luckily for Gillespie – FAS was growing right along with him, and soon announced its Policy Entrepreneurship Fellowship (PEF). Again, Gillespie jumped at the opportunity. The fellowship’s aim was to empower and guide Day One memo authors to gain further traction for their policy ideas among practitioners and decision-makers, and pursue more opportunities for impact.

Gillespie was selected for the inaugural PEF cohort, and used his fellowship to craft a short film documenting the impact of redlining in several different cities. He says FAS gave him not only the tools but also the freedom to explore different ways to make an impact.

“That’s one reason I’ve had such a great time,” he says. “I’m going to come into a space and be myself completely, and FAS has supported me in taking that wherever it goes, whether it’d be a film or whether it be a white paper.”

While he’d love to see his policy proposal addressing redlining become law or end up in an Executive Order from the President, Gillespie says another way to make an impact is through relationships.

“I’m helping to build an ecosystem of actors who are doing this work – people in cities who are making these moves,” he says. “I was really able to see that it’s not that the work is not being done, – it’s that I didn’t see how much work was being done. Now it comes down to connecting those ecosystems and supporting those movements.”

Next, Gillespie will be honing his interdisciplinary approach to making a policy impact within government as a Food Supply Chain Impact Fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The coolest part of my experience has been – how my creativity was supported, and how that led to doors opening to opportunities that could help the nation in a different way than I expected.”

Policy Entrepreneurship to Address Today’s Biggest Challenges

What started in 1945 as the Federation of Atomic Scientists – an organization wholly dedicated to eradicating the existential risk of nuclear weapons – now takes on a broader set of massively important and overlooked policy priorities as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). FAS envisions a world where science, technology, ideas and talent are deployed to solve the biggest challenges of our time.

What distinguishes our work is the approach we bring to these issues, unlocking progress through “policy entrepreneurship” even in areas where tractability has long been elusive. 

While ‘policy entrepreneurship’ can take many forms, at FAS we believe that it starts with an understanding that many policymakers are motivated to drive change, but lack the capacity, expertise, and often, talent. The best policy proposals need to go beyond an initial idea to solve for those challenges as well.

When it comes to expertise – through its Day One publishing platform, FAS sources the best policy ideas from scientists and policy experts, and then helps these policy entrepreneurs refine their ideas and include implementation-ready action plans.

To help further foster blossoming policy entrepreneurs, FAS created its Policy Entrepreneurship Fellowship (PEF) to help participants take their policy memos from ideas to reality. During a six-month experience, hosted by FAS in partnership with the Aspen Institute, each PEF works as a part-time FAS affiliate to (i) help their specific ideas gain traction among practitioners and decision makers, and (ii) identify and pursue opportunities for impact in underlying policy areas of interest. PEF participants receive a $5,000 stipend as well as ongoing guidance from policy and technical experts in the FAS community, opportunities for formal training on topics like budgetary analysis and science communication, access to FAS programming and facilities, professional editing services, and more.

The PEF program has helped budding technologists and scientists recognize their potential to drive significant change at the federal level, and continues to pay dividends for the growing network of policy entrepreneurs surrounding FAS. Three members of the initial cohort of PEFs, Monica Sanders, Christopher Gillespie, Grace Wickerson, and Alexa White, have followed their fellowship experiences by deepening their involvement with federal policymaking – but each in different, but similarly impressive, ways. This series will briefly introduce you to their work.

Policy Entrepreneurship Profiles
Building a Digital Justice Framework: Monica Sanders
read more
Coming soon
Coming soon
Coming soon

Building a Digital Justice Framework: FAS Policy Entrepreneur Fellow Monica Sanders

What is policy entrepreneurship? It is the practice of recognizing a problem and proposing a solution through policy. It is central to our work at FAS and our Day One Project, which presents actionable plans to every presidential administration, ready for implementation starting on “day one.” Submit your policy ideas to one of our ongoing idea challenges.

Monica Sanders is a FAS policy entrepreneur fellow (PEF) originally from Louisiana. Her stellar career of service includes work as a lawyer, scholar, and founder of The Undivide Project. Undivide is an organization dedicated to the legal and policy changes needed to address the intersections between digital and climate equity. One Undivide initiative uses IoT (internet of things) to build climate resilience solutions in disaster-impacted communities. It was through this work that she originally connected with FAS.

Building a Digital Justice Framework

“Since I started my organization, I have been pondering this concept of digital justice and what it means in a world that is increasingly digitized and climate-impacted at the same time. Broadly, I decided that the components would be: democratized access to information, economic opportunity, and training for future and equitable access to resilience-building resources,” she explains. 

This realization brought her to the FAS Day One Project, where she formalized her ideas into a policy memo titled Using A Digital Justice Framework To Improve Disaster Preparation And Response. In it she outlines both the needs for this framework in the context of climate-driven weather disasters, and proposes solutions for implementation.

The memo development process introduced Monica to scientists and technologists who agreed with her thesis and saw similar needs in the disaster-relief capacity of the government. The result was a second policy memo, jointly authored with Shefali Juneja Lakhina and Melanie Gall:, Increasing National Resilience Through An Open Disaster Data Initiative. It advocates for enhanced data-sharing across government to more quickly and effectively respond to emergencies.

“Green Jobs”: Ever-Growing Yet Invisible Classification

After joining as an FAS Fellow, Monica continued her digital justice work with a focus on “green” technology-focused jobs and opportunities. While “green jobs” are an ever-expanding growth area, the government’s official “green jobs” classification in the Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS) was frozen after 2013. In effect, she argues, these jobs are invisible.

The classification needs updating, she says, to include a broader range of federal jobs that are essential to fighting climate change and which are evolving rapidly with the advent of technology. Updating BLS job classification is crucial for measuring effectiveness of government programs to deploy job opportunities more equitably across the country. Though BLS is largely known for publishing the unemployment numbers, the agency is doing a lot of work critical to fighting climate change.

“These are important to resource allocations at the state and local level and to send signals about the contours of certain jobs and industries to stakeholders outside of government,” she explains. She details why updating the BLS to define “green” and “tech” jobs are necessary to deploy job opportunities at scale in Revitalizing Federal Jobs Data: Unleashing the Potential of Emerging Roles. 

Policy Entrepreneurship a Path to Change 

Monica’s work as a PEF involves a lot of research and outreach. “For me, two of the most important aspects of the fellowship were the engagement and learning opportunities. I had never thought about policy in an entrepreneurial way, nor had a deep dive into how to manage some of these nuanced relationships. I worked in the legislature, but my role was mainly about looking at the constitutionality and legality of certain issues, not in designing interdisciplinary and inter- and intra-governmental initiatives.”

She encourages people to consider policy entrepreneurship as a path to change.

“Litigation can take years if an issue even makes it to court. Administrative orders and rulemaking are often retroactive — meaning the solution comes after a harm has happened. With policy entrepreneurship there is an opportunity to 1) be proactive, and 2) make an impact in a reasonable amount of time. Given the number of existential crises we must collectively confront, I have found policy entrepreneurship to be a fruitful avenue towards doing some of that work.”