The Next Phase in our Research Focus: Improving the Use of Research Evidence

The William T. Grant Foundation has long supported research to improve the lives of young people, but we know that there is considerable distance between the research we support and youth outcomes. The stakes of omitting or misusing research evidence are high, but 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.

For the past six years, the Foundation has taken up these challenges by supporting research to increase understanding of how research evidence is acquired, understood, and used, as well as the circumstances that shape its use in decision making. These projects have deepened our understanding of the users of research and their worlds and offered fresh ideas about how to improve the use of research evidence. For example, the work revealed the prominent role of intermediary organizations—think tanks, foundations, vendors, program developers, and advocacy organizations—in shaping the production and use of research evidence. Studies also underscored the importance of cultivating trusting relationships between researchers, intermediaries, and decision makers, and establishing structural supports to make sense of research evidence and produce research that is responsive to the concerns of decision makers.

A New Direction

Understanding the problem of research use is not enough. As we embark on the next phase of this initiative, we want to support studies of how to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.

To that end, we are shifting our focus from understanding how and under what conditions research is used to understanding how to create those conditions. This shift is significant in three ways.

First, we invite studies that identify or test actionable strategies to improve the use of existing research. This includes descriptive studies that reveal the strategies, mechanisms, or conditions for improving research use. This also includes evaluations of deliberate efforts to increase routine and beneficial uses of research in deliberations and decisions that affect young people.

Second, it invites teams to identify or test strategies for producing more useful research evidence. This includes examining incentives, structures, and relationships that facilitate the production of research in ways that respond to decision makers’ needs and optimize researchers’, decision makers’, and intermediaries’ joint work to benefit youth.

Third, it calls for projects that test the assumption that using high quality research in particular ways improves decision making and youth outcomes.

Next Steps

We’ve updated our research grants application guidelines and have created new supplementary guidance for researchers who are interested in studying how to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth. Senior Program Officer Kim DuMont has also written an essay taking stock of the Foundation’s use of research evidence grants portfolio from 2009-2015, which gives a comprehensive look at the history of the initiative, highlights three themes that emerged from findings, and signals major questions that inform the next phase of the initiative.

We invite you to look over these materials, share them with your colleagues, and consider how improving the use of research evidence can positively impact the lives of young people.

The first two sections of this post are excerpted from the 2016 supplementary guidance for studying the use of research evidence. Kim DuMont’s essay originally appeared in our 2014 annual report.