Advancing the relevance of research to policymakers during times of crisis

photo of the U.S. Capitol

“Our hope is that this work shines a light on tested tactics for breaking through the noise and meaningfully engaging with the policy community during times of crisis," said Taylor Scott, director of the Research Translation Platform and assistant research professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. Photo credit: Adobe Stock/W Scott McGill

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An interdisciplinary team that included Penn State researchers recently found evidence that supports science communication tactics to cut through the noise during times of political crisis.

The Research Translation Platform of the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative (EIC) team published their findings in the journal Evidence & Policy.

Through a series of four, rapid-cycle randomized control trials (RCTs), the research team explored science communication strategies by disseminating fact sheets on various policy issues to state legislators, state staffers and federal staffers. These topics varied by trial and included COVID-19 issues, police violence, and domestic violence.

Across these trials, the research team found that personalizing the subject line to the legislator’s name or district and targeting recipients based on committee assignment most often improved engagement with science-based content. Mentions of subject matter in public statements were inconsistently associated, and state-level prevalence of the issue was largely not associated with email engagement behavior. 

The interdisciplinary effort was comprised of researchers from multiple institutions and was led by Taylor Scott, director of the Research Translation Platform and assistant research professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. Co-authors include Jessica Pugel, Penn State; Mary Fernandes, Georgia State University; Katherine Cruz, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Beth Long, Penn State, Cagla Giray, Weber Shandwick; Rachel Storace, Penn State; and Max Crowley, Penn State. 

“Our hope is that this work shines a light on tested tactics for breaking through the noise and meaningfully engaging with the policy community during times of crisis," said Scott. “Our goal ultimately is to use strategies that help improve legislative relevance of research so that we can expand interpersonal connections between scientific researchers and policymakers. As part of this goal, scientists need legislators to see these outreach messages so that we can get a foot in the door and make it apparent how neutral, fact-based research can stand in contrast to the special-interest messages they're used to seeing.” 

Evidence & Policy, published by Policy Press and self-described as “a journal of research, debate and practice,” is the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to a comprehensive and critical assessment of the relationship between researchers and the evidence they produce and the concerns of policymakers and practitioners. 

These studies indicate the practical application of targeting legislators based on committee assignments and of personalizing the subject line with legislator information. This work further operationalizes practical indicators of personal relevance and demonstrates a novel method of how to test science communication strategies among policymakers. 

About the Research Translation Platform and the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative

The Research Translation Platform is the scientific home for the study of translating scientific evidence for decision makers across government, industry and practice. This includes understanding the use of evidence in policymaking to help prevent, reduce and ameliorate social ills and promote societal well-being. It represents a key component of the EIC. 

The EIC is a research center for the science of scientific impact, which aims to improve the relevance, value and use of research evidence to help increase societal well-being.  The EIC leverages expertise in administrative data, program design and evaluation, and researcher-policymaker relationships to optimize public and private investments. The EIC is a unit of the Social Science Research Institute and is supported by Penn State's College of Health and Human Development. More information on the EIC can be found here. Follow the EIC on Twitter @Evidence2Impact.

People Mentioned in this Article

Max Crowley Taylor Bishop Scott Elizabeth Long