Critical gaps exist between research, decision making, and youth outcomes. Too often, research is absent from deliberations about programs and practices for youth. And the information needs of decision makers working on behalf of youth too rarely shape research agendas. These gaps persist despite increased calls for research-informed programs, policies, and practices, and sizable investments to generate stronger research evidence. In addition, we lack a strong evidence base to demonstrate the value of social science research when it is used. We see a need for new knowledge about how to improve the use of research evidence.
The Foundation’s use of research evidence initiative takes up this challenge and aims to build theory and empirical evidence on strategies to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth. We recognize that research use is rarely a simple process whereby research “facts” are passed from researchers to research users and then applied in a rational decision-making process.
As the Foundation commits to renewed interest in this area, we shift our focus from understanding how and under what conditions research is used to understanding how to create those conditions.
Our renewed focus includes:
- Investigations to identify, create, and test the structural and social conditions that foster more routine and constructive uses of existing research evidence.
- Studies to identify, create, and test the incentives, structures, and relationships that facilitate the production of new research evidence that responds to decision makers’ needs.
- Studies that investigate whether and under what conditions using high quality research evidence improves decision making and youth outcomes.
“Research evidence” is a type of evidence derived from applying systematic methods and analyses to address a predefined question or hypothesis. This includes descriptive studies, intervention or evaluation studies, meta-analyses, and cost-effectiveness studies conducted within or outside research organizations.
“Use of research evidence” can happen in many ways and may involve the direct application of research evidence to decision making, conceptual influences on how decision makers think about problems and potential solutions, strategic uses of research to justify existing stances or positions, or imposed uses that require decision makers to engage with research.
“Strategies” are systematic and replicable methods, activities, or policies intended to improve the use of research evidence or to maximize its benefits on decision making and youth outcomes.
To propose research on improving the use of research evidence, applicants should clearly identify how they conceptualize and will operationalize the use of research evidence. Studies should focus on an area in which a body of research evidence, if used, has the potential to benefit youth. Proposals should be strong both theoretically and methodologically. Studies that seek to develop novel measures and methods for capturing research use are also welcome.
We generally support studies in education, child welfare, and justice, and focus on the use of research evidence by state and local decision makers and intermediary organizations. However, because we recognize that the best ideas might fall outside these decision making groups and policy domains, we remain open to groundbreaking studies that fall outside of these areas if applicants provide a compelling rationale.