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Lawmakers` use of scientific evidence can be improved
Thursday, 2021/03/04 | 08:34:19

D. Max Crowley, J. Taylor Scott, Elizabeth C. Long, Lawrie Green, Azaliah Israel, Lauren Supplee, Elizabeth Jordan, Kathryn Oliver, Shannon Guillot-Wright, Brittany Gay, Rachel Storace, Naomi Torres-Mackie, Yolanda Murphy, Sandra Donnay, Jenna Reardanz, Rebecca Smith, Kristina McGuire, Elizabeth Baker, Ana Antonopoulos, Mary McCauley, and Cagla Giray


PNAS March 2, 2021 118 (9) e2012955118


This study is an experimental trial that demonstrates the potential for formal outreach strategies to change congressional use of research. Our results show that collaboration between policy and research communities can change policymakers’ value of science and result in legislation that appears to be more inclusive of research evidence. The findings of this study also demonstrated changes in researchers’ knowledge and motivation to engage with policymakers as well as their actual policy engagement behavior. Together, the observed changes in both policymakers and researchers randomized to receive an intervention for supporting legislative use of research evidence (i.e., the Research-to-Policy Collaboration model) provides support for the underlying theories around the social nature of research translation and evidence use.


Core to the goal of scientific exploration is the opportunity to guide future decision-making. Yet, elected officials often miss opportunities to use science in their policymaking. This work reports on an experiment with the US Congress—evaluating the effects of a randomized, dual-population (i.e., researchers and congressional offices) outreach model for supporting legislative use of research evidence regarding child and family policy issues. In this experiment, we found that congressional offices randomized to the intervention reported greater value of research for understanding issues than the control group following implementation. More research use was also observed in legislation introduced by the intervention group. Further, we found that researchers randomized to the intervention advanced their own policy knowledge and engagement as well as reported benefits for their research following implementation.


See: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/9/e2012955118

Fig. 1.

The RPC Intervention Model. Step 1: Policy Identification involves initial outreach to legislative staff and uses a semistructured needs assessment to inquire about policymakers’ overarching policy goals for the legislative session. Step 2: Rapid Response Network Development involves identifying researchers who have expertise relevant to policymakers’ goals and are willing to contribute to research translation efforts. Their areas of expertise are cataloged in a strategic resource mapping process that builds capacity for matching researchers with policymakers. Step 3: Network Capacity Building occurs through didactic and experiential training that aims to increase policy skills and engagement. This includes training on adapting to legislative norms without violating lobbying regulations, as well as opportunities to respond to lawmakers’ interests identified in Step 1. Step 4: Legislative Needs Assessment identifies short-term priorities and needs in anticipation of matching policymakers with researchers who have corresponding experiences and scholarly interests. This semistructured assessment is action-oriented to identify ways that researchers might support legislative efforts. Step 5: Rapid Response Meetings engage legislative staff and researchers in direct interactions to discuss research, as this is a theorized mechanism for facilitating relationship development. Meetings aim to support the codevelopment of science implications, since research interpretation is a formative and iterative process. Researchers respond to initial legislative requests and plan next steps for ongoing collaboration. Researchers are invited for these meetings based on prior RPC participation, time availability, relevant scholarly interests, and geographic similarities (e.g., researchers having done work in the state the congressional member represents). Step 6: Initial Strategic Planning for rapid responses follows immediately after meetings to summarize goals, determine next steps, prioritize and create a timeline, and identify point person(s) for follow-up. Step 7: Ongoing Collaboration includes rapid responses to legislative requests. As an example, this could include collecting and summarizing research resources, planning briefing events or testimony, or publishing written products for dissemination (e.g., briefs, op-eds).

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