How can researchers talk so that policymakers will listen?

Child Trends has a new brief – as well as a webinar – that covers the best ways to share research with elected officials and other policy leaders.

“We’ve seen here at Child Trends… a real growth in what we at the federal level call evidence-based policymaking. It’s really a movement,” Elizabeth Jordan, a Child Trends senior policy analyst, explains in the webinar.

“It’s really a way for policymakers and advocates on both sides of the aisle to find consensus,” “We all want to do what we know works for vulnerable children and their families.”

How can research have more of an impact on policy? Child Trends points to several examples, including how research on home visiting programs showed ““Rigorous evidence of the short- and long-term positive outcomes for children and families who participated…”

The result: the administration created a new federal home visiting program.”

So, what should researchers and advocates know about reaching policymakers?

First, know who policymakers are. Drawing on data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Child Trends points out that state legislators are largely white, male, and members of the baby-boom generation.

Second, determine where policymakers are in their process. Are they:

• defining a problem?

• choosing a policy direction? or

• putting a policy into action?

Third, figure out how policymakers are using research:

• to fulfill a legislative requirement

• as an educational tool

• to convince other people or entities to act, or

• to evaluate a program or problem

Fourth, develop personal relationships with policymakers who tend to “prefer a personal connection or conversation to a written report.” A conversation is more accessible than a report and allows policymakers ask questions.

Fifth, since it’s impossible to talk to every legislator, do use written materials, but make sure they include compelling, easily understood elements such as:

• the relevance of a policy

• non-technical, concise language

• bulleted lists

• stories

• one-page summaries

• clearly marked sections

• graphics, and

• large text

“Summaries of what works should include information about benefits, risks, and costs. Be clear about the uncertainty of estimates and, when available, provide information about effects for different populations,” the brief says.

“Whenever possible, include easy-to-use tools, or detailed protocols, so that programs can be more easily adapted to local conditions. Finally, always include the researchers’ advice or guidance on the policy implications of their work. As one policymaker put it, ‘I may not follow the researcher’s advice, but I want to know what they think.’”

Research can improve the world – if it’s shared in effective ways.