Toward a Research Agenda for Understanding and Improving the Use of Research Evidence

Jack Byers

Steven R. Nelson, James C. Leffler, and Barbara A. Hansen
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory
2009

With politicians calling daily for more “evidence-based” policies, “data-driven” performance tracking, and other uses of statistics, this report is particularly timely. And for producers and funders of research, this report addresses two central dissemination questions: How does research evidence factor into politicians and educators’ decision making? And how do they choose which research to look at? The authors conducted focus groups and personal interviews with sixty-five teachers, administrators, school board members, state legislators, congressional staffers, and deputy state superintendents. Recognizing the small size and selectivity of their sample, they do not offer grandiose conclusions, but they did find some interesting anecdotal material. Decision-makers want research to be more accessible (easier to read, find, and digest) and more specific and practical (e.g., location-based case studies with actionable recommendations--a tall order!). And politicians tend not to trust research, knowing that statistics can be manipulated. But here’s a bit of a surprise: Policymakers are most likely to get their research through intermediaries. In other words, when faced with a policy decision about which they want to find out more, they’ll go to a source they trust, an organization or individual who points them in the right direction or interprets the evidence for them. This report leaves the research-producer with much to ponder: How to make one’s work more accessible? What intermediaries will recast it for decision makers? Can the source of the research be its own intermediary? Read it here (pdf).

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