The Social Side of Evidence-Based Policy

Comment by Adam Gamoran: “To Support Evidence-Based Policymaking, Bring Researchers and Policymakers Together,” by D. Max Crowley and J. Taylor Scott (Issues, Winter 2023), captures a simple truth: getting scientific evidence used in policy is about building relationships of trust between researchers and policymakers—the social side of evidence use. While the idea may seem obvious, it challenges prevailing notions of evidence-based policymaking, which typically rest on a logic akin to “if we build it, they will come.” In fact, the idea that producing high-quality evidence ensures its use is demonstrably false. Even when evidence is timely, relevant, and accessible, and even after researchers have filed their rigorous findings in a clearinghouse, the gap between evidence production and evidence use remains wide.

But how to build such relationships of trust? More than a decade of findings from research supported by the William T. Grant Foundation demonstrates the need for an infrastructure that supports evidence use. Such an infrastructure may involve new roles for staff within policy organizations to engage with research and researchers, as well as provision of resources that build their capacity to do so. For researchers, this infrastructure may involve committing to ongoing, mutual engagement with policymakers, in contrast with the traditional role of conveying written results or presenting findings without necessarily prioritizing policymakers’ concerns. Intermediary organizations such as funders and advocacy groups can play a key role in advancing the two-way streets through which researchers and policymakers can forge closer, more productive relationships…(More)”.