Does scientifically-backed information capture the attention of policymakers? To test this, I conducted a field experiment embedded in a real-life advocacy initiative targeted to members of the European Parliament in April 2018. As described in my Evidence & Policy article, ‘The silver bullet reversed: the impact of empirical evidence on policymaker attention’, results indicate that ideas-based information, rather than empirical information, gathers more attention from policymakers. More precisely, it is the announcement of ideas rather the actual information which manages to capture policymaker interest. Crucially, these findings hold across political groups, policy support and gender.
Jennifer Watling Neal, Zachary P. Neal and Brian Brutzman
Brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners facilitate communication between researchers and practitioners but are these various terms simply different labels for the same role? We spent the last year reviewing published articles in health, education and the environment to explore how each of these terms is defined. In short, we found that, when these terms are used, most of the time they aren’t defined. But, when these terms are defined, there are key differences in what they mean.
There’s increasing recognition that brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners play a key role in connecting researchers and practitioners. However, inconsistencies in whetherand how brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners are defined make it hard to understand, evaluate and leverage these roles.
What makes experts legitimate in the eyes of policymakers? Even though this is one of the foundational questions of the interdisciplinary scholarship on evidence and policy, the answer is neither straightforward nor simple. Expert legitimacy is driven by seeming contradictions – experts have to be responsive to policymakers’ needs but, at the same time, they cannot be too close to politics. They have to provide advice which is strongly grounded in science but if their advice is too complex it risks being ignored or being perceived too ‘detached’ and ‘academic’. Experts are legitimate when they are insiders and outsiders at the same time. This dynamic has become particularly evident in the ongoing pandemic, where government advisors have had to represent (and at times defend) science whilst at the same time accounting for what policy directions are ‘doable’ – publicly and politically acceptable and economically feasible.
Qualitative research has the potential to be of great value in policymaking. By examining stakeholders’ lived experiences, providing rich detail about policy contexts, and offering nuanced insights about the processes through which programmes are implemented, qualitative research can supply useful information that is not easily, if at all, obtainable through surveys and other quantitative methods. However, policymakers consistently express a preference for quantitative research. This is particularly true for randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which have been called the ‘gold standard’ of evaluation methods.
One of the major trends within the contemporary policy scene is ‘the use of behavioural insights (BI)’ to improve policymaking. All around the world, from Qatar to England and Japan, ‘Behavioural Insights Teams’ (or ‘BITs’), ‘Nudge advisers’ and ‘Chief Behavioural Officers’ now inhabit government, seeking to infuse it with state-of-the-art knowledge and methods from the behavioural sciences. The more specific signature traits of this BI agenda appear to be its focus on new behavioural economics, nudge techniques and Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs). The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t hampered the behavioural momentum – quite the contrary: in the absence of a distributed vaccine, halting the spread of the coronavirus has very much been a behaviour change challenge, with BI being in great demand. The recent launch of dedicated ‘COVID-19 Teams’ and ‘Corona Behavioural Units’ within the UK’s and Dutch policy scene didn’t come as a surprise, and only confirmed that behavioural government is here to stay.
Intriguingly enough, though, one question about the new institutional praxis of ‘using BI’ remains not yet convincingly answered: What is it, really?
The UK Parliament performs key democratic functions holding the government to account by scrutinising policy, debating legislation and providing a venue for the public to air their views through elected representatives. Despite the key role of the UK Parliament in shaping government policy, for example in recent times on Brexit and COVID-19 (though many argue Parliament should have a greater role on the latter), scholars of science-policy interfaces have rarely explored how evidence is sourced and used in legislatures.
We have spent much of our academic and professional careers participating in and leading initiatives that are trying to change how organisations, institutions and systems function. The relentless demands of this work mean there is often little opportunity to reflect on the efficacy of our efforts. To address this gap, we conducted more than two years of ethnographic research to learn how community-university-policy partnerships use research and strategic communication to change how youth homelessness is addressed on a pan-Canadian scale. Our intention was to improve our own tactical efforts to ensure our research contributes to the types of changes we want to see (e.g. an end to youth poverty and homelessness).
We learned that networked knowledge exchange is central to ensuring research-to-policy impact.
In this blog post, we suggest three things researchers can do to produce research that addresses persistent social problems.
How do we implement shared decision-making into routine practice? Health systems are struggling with this question worldwide. Instead of simplifying this challenge into barriers and facilitators, what if we embraced its complexity?
In recent years there have been increasing calls for the implementation of shared decision-making in routine clinical care. Shared decision-making is particularly helpful for decisions where there are multiple appropriate options, and the ‘best’ decision rests with the patient’s preferences.
In my work with federal agencies over the last 15 years on violence prevention, social emotional learning, mental health and homelessness, the idea of translating research to practice has become increasingly important. We know there is a gap between what we discover through research and what is applied by practitioners, funders and policymakers.
Over the past decade, federal agencies — and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in particular — have sought to learn more about the ‘science’ of implementing programmes, practices and policies. They want to invest smartly and do a better job of ensuring the most evidence-based decisions. These are noble goals — especially during this pandemic, when health and human service organizations are being asked to do things they have never done before, with lightning speed. Unfortunately, it gets complicated fast: Each field has its own terminology, frameworks and measures, making it difficult to synthesise information and create a shared body of knowledge across disciplines. So where do we start?
Jennifer Lawlor, Kathryn McAlindon, Kristen Mills, Jennifer Neal and Zachary Neal
Policy makers are working hard to promote the use of research in education. But, does ‘research’ mean the same thing to policy makers and educators? While this question might seem basic, it’s important to know if policy makers and educators are speaking the same language.
It examines similarities and differences between educators’ definitions of research and the definitions used in US Federal education policy. Our findings show that educators tend to focus on the process and products of research, while policy definitions focus on data and outcomes.