Thought experiments with ‘fake’ research abstracts help policy makers visualise actions to be taken on evidence

Scrabble

Our university-policy maker partnership produces ‘fake’ abstracts of articles we’ve not written yet (on results we frankly don’t even know we’ve got) to loosen up thinking. It helps the team visualise pathways for policy action.

Penelope Hawe

Ours is a tricky situation, politically-speaking. A health department is undertaking Australia’s largest ever scale-up of evidence-based childhood obesity programs into every school and childcare centre across the state.[1] It costs $45m. They have an electronic data monitoring system in place. It’s already telling them that targets are being met. But rather than just rest on their success, they invite a team of researchers to do a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred ethnography. It could reveal the ‘real’ story of what’s goes on at the ground level.[2]

Foolhardy or brilliant?

I’m opting for brilliant. But let me put this in context. New South Wales Health is renowned for being research-savvy. They invest heavily in research capacity building. I’m talking in-house research, strategic investment, partnership research and peer reviewed publications.[3] The CVs of some of the policy makers in our partnership put some of us at universities to shame really.

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How educators and policy makers think differently about research

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.

Jennifer Lawlor, Kathryn McAlindon, Kristen Mills, Jennifer Neal and Zachary Neal

In this blog, we discuss the findings of our recent research article, ‘What is research? Educators’ conceptions and alignment with United States federal policies‘, published in Evidence & Policy, which has been awarded the 2019 Carol Weiss Prize.

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.

Over the course of 90 interviews with educators, we began to notice patterns in the way educators defined research. This presented an opportunity to pause and ask: what differences exist in the way educators and policy makers think about research? Because US Federal policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) encourage or mandate the use of research, the stakes are high for educators to comply. So, if educators and policy makers are on different pages about what counts as ‘research’, this can be a problem. At the same time, finding ways to bring educators’ and policy makers’ perspectives into alignment can help support collaboration between these groups.

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