How policy makers view evidence lessons from the rwjf synthesis project
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How Policy-Makers View Evidence: Lessons from the RWJF Synthesis Project. Claudia Williams AZA Consulting June 25, 2006. Why aren’t research results better used by policy-makers?. Policy-makers are in information overload Research does not pass the “so what” test

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How Policy-Makers View Evidence: Lessons from the RWJF Synthesis Project

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How policy makers view evidence lessons from the rwjf synthesis project

How Policy-Makers View Evidence: Lessons from the RWJF Synthesis Project

Claudia Williams

AZA Consulting

June 25, 2006


Why aren t research results better used by policy makers

Why aren’t research results better used by policy-makers?

  • Policy-makers are in information overload

  • Research does not pass the “so what” test

  • Research results are not translated for policy decisions

    • Too technical and indirect

    • Isolated findings that have not been synthesized

  • Results are not fed into best channels


How policy makers view evidence lessons from the rwjf synthesis project

Mismatch between policy and research

Opinion leaders, lobbyists and press

Use people not paper

Often need basic information

Won’t read long reports

Skim for “story line” and conclusions

Policy-maker

Researcher

Information

Channels

Information

habits

Level of

Information

Format

Journals and research conferences

Peer-reviewed journals

Information is technical and sophisticated

Reports often 50+ pages

Lead with methodology and background. Results last.


Joseph nye expressed it well

Joseph Nye expressed it well

“It's a totally different world, government, from academics. In academic life, there's no premium on time, the premium is on getting it just right. In government, if you haven't got the right answer by four o'clock this afternoon when the president meets with the prime minister, that perfect paper you get in a little bit late is an "F.” The idea that I would have time to read a thirty page paper -- ! I used to write them, and I found that I couldn't read them (when I worked in government)…

So this problem of how do you take chaotic reality and try to shape the right questions, even before you get answers, is very different in the government setting than in the academic setting. Because in the academic setting there's a luxury, there's no time limit. You can sort your way through it, figure it out; if you don't have the answer you go back to the library and look up more data and so forth. In government you either solve the problem or get the right answer quickly or it doesn't happen at all. And it's quite a different set of skills. The premium we put on time makes a huge difference.”

Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government

1997 University of California at Berkeley Interview


Synthesis development process

Synthesis development process


Synthesis strategies

Synthesis strategies

  • Choose topics carefully

  • Create meaning not noise

  • Synthesize bodies of information

  • Pair research with policy expertise

  • Use active dissemination


Choose topics carefully

Choose topics carefully

  • Select perennial “thorn in the side” issues

  • Solicit topic ideas from policy audience

    • Start with “what is on their plates”

    • Make sure topics pass “so what” test

  • Certain policy decisions—often big ideological questions—are not answered or addressed through better information

  • Work with advisory group to narrow and select best topics


Create meaning not noise

Create meaning not noise

  • Help organize and manage information, addressing not aggravating information overload

  • Make synthesis visual and skimmable, leading with conclusions and telling a story

  • Policy questions drive the information, not the intricacies of the research

  • Use multiple layers so users can read at different levels


Synthesize bodies of information

Synthesize bodies of information

  • Synthesize bodies of evidence instead of producing isolated findings

  • Organize, structure and make sense of information, putting it into understandable frameworks

  • Bring diverse findings onto the same footing

    • Compare and weigh findings

    • Reach conclusions based on best evidence


Pair research with policy expertise

Pair research with policy expertise

  • This approach does not come easily to many researchers

  • Best known researcher often not best synthesizer

  • Requires a team approach

  • The process is iterative and intense


Use active dissemination

Use active dissemination

  • Goals of dissemination: share findings and foster discussion and dialogue

  • Researchers need a way to communicate more directly with policy-makers

  • Partner with knowledge broker and convening organizations


Methodological issues

Methodological issues

  • Started with notion of a clear bar…but weaker literature sometimes needs to be discussed

  • Policy staff want to reach their own conclusions about research findings

  • Synthesis should not mask details on the approach, methodologies and bias of underlying evidence

    • Compare results

    • Evaluate methods

    • Technical information separated out


Synthesis framework

  • RESEARCH FINDINGS ARE:

  • Too long and complicated

  • Fragmented

  • Unclear and confusing

The Problem

Use Results to Improve

Research

The Synthesis Solution

  • ENGAGE AND DISSEMINATE

  • Foster dialogue

  • Actively engage

  • Get press attention

  • TRANSLATE AND ORGANIZE

  • Build conceptual frameworks

  • Construct bridges

  • Organize around policy issues

Partnerships?

Audience?

  • BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE

  • Tracking function

  • Credible review

  • Advisory group

  • CREATE FORMAT AND DESIGN

  • Short and skimmable

  • Objective and balanced

  • Provocative

  • Links to other resources

Topics?

Synthesis framework


Rules to live by

Rules to live by

  • Government “think tank” staff are ideal audience

  • Syntheses should lay out areas where the evidence points to a clear conclusion as well as areas where there is debate

  • Syntheses need policy as well as research input throughout

  • Syntheses should be candid, objective and credible


Contact information

Contact information

Project

email [email protected]

web site www.policysynthesis.org

David Colby, RWJF

Claudia Williams, AZA Consulting

phone 571.641.3030

email [email protected]


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