At our recent William T. Grant Scholars retreat, I had the opportunity to share my reflections with early- and mid-career academics about ways they might meet this social and political moment. In this post I expand on three recommendations: 1) act now but plan for the long game, 2) build your relationships with change partners and your understanding of change processes, and 3) know yourself and care for yourself.
In light of the lessons learned over the past decade, as well as those we’re learning in real time as the crisis unfolds, I recently wrote a post for Transforming Evidence reflecting on ways the research community can be of service as decision makers seek to chart the proper course in an unsettled environment.
The Foundation is interested in funding studies that examine social movements as a strategy to target macro-structural inequalities that affect youth outcomes. Such studies might focus on youth-led movements or on adult-led movements that affect youth, but the central focus should examine the conditions or mechanisms through which movements can reduce inequality in youth outcomes.
I share my reflections on the past decade of work in this area, as well as my current thinking, with the hope that we, along with fellow travelers on a similar journey, can find ways to forge a more productive path forward together. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback to improve our thinking and work, and I look forward to continuing to share what we are learning across sectors and countries.
Although today much of the work to bring research to bear on important decisions that shape our lives and our environment is still focused largely on disseminating findings and communicating with those who will listen, we’re encouraged that a movement is growing to foster engagement and build meaningful, collaborative relationships.
Research-practice partnerships and RPP funders are positioned to move education into the next frontier, but to do so they will need to complement their attention to evidence production with an equally robust focus on evidence use.
We recognize that no single effort will be transformative, but we hope that our collective efforts as researchers, research funders, universities, and professional associations can support research that, over the long term, improves the lives of young people.
Researchers who want their work to matter in policy and practice should pursue the questions of greatest relevance with the highest standards of theoretical and methodological rigor.
Building an RPP is hard work. They are complex organisms, with structures, processes, and roles that evolve as partnerships mature and adapt. However they form, we have observed five elements that seem to come together in successful partnerships.
In this video, produced by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services, Vivian Tseng challenges the traditional paradigm of moving from “research to practice.” She suggests that researchers and evaluators need to think differently about the ways that research is acquired and used, and she describes steps they can take to close the gaps between research and practice.
As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it’s essential that we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.
We are at a crossroads in evidence-based policy. Federal evidence initiatives can be strengthened, but doing so requires the will and the patience to learn from the work thus far. Otherwise, evidence-based policy will likely recede into the background as yet another policy fad that came and went. To move forward, let’s take a good hard look at the current evidence initiatives and identify what can be learned from them.
Vivian Tseng and Sandra Nutley point the way forward for education researchers and policymakers, summarizing the key points made throughout Using Research Evidence in Education and concluding: “Research is not the next silver bullet for education reform, and simply mandating its use will not get us to our ultimate goals of better teaching and learning. … If we are committed to using research to enrich problem framing, decision making, and individual and organization learning in education, the next decade should focus on building trust, capacity, strong relationships, and the conditions for productive evidence integration.”
Increasing research rigor is not sufficient, and making evidence available on a website won’t get it used. Users need ongoing engagement around research.
Here are five lessons my colleagues and I have learned through a decade of work at the William T. Grant Foundation to bridge research to policy.