Author: Margaret Maes (page 1 of 2)

Forum Brings Together Policymakers and Academics


On February 17, the Sanford School and APPAM, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management hosted a forum for members on bridging research and policy.  The all-day forum included three panel discussions.

Addressing the Researcher-Policymaker Gap

Anita Brown-Graham, Professor of Public Law and Government, School of Government, University of North Carolina, moderated the morning panel on addressing the researcher-policymaker gap.

In discussing the gap between academic researchers and policymakers, three themes emerged: timing, accessibility, and communication. Senator Chad Barefoot, NC General Assembly, emphasized that the part-time citizen legislature of North Carolina is often underfunded and understaffed so that academics can best reach them at times when policy is being made, outside of election and budget seasons, January through April of odd numbered years.

Rick Glazier, executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center, stressed the importance of getting researchers engaged from the outset by encouraging academics to reach out to policymakers, create safe learning spaces for open dialogue, and spend one-on-one time with lawmakers to better develop policy questions. In terms of accessibility, Glazier noted that academics need to keep in mind the importance of political and fiscal feasibility when considering projects.

Barefoot distinguished between older or more entrenched issue areas in contrast to newer issues. The former are often informed by ideology rather than evidence, and both can be hard to express in the soundbites that many citizens expect. Particularly for lawmakers without academic backgrounds, sharing straightforward memos or briefings can make a bigger impact than academic papers.

Both Glazier and Barefoot expressed the need for a compendium of current research so that legislative staff and academic researchers are not duplicating efforts. Researchers should reach out to policymakers from the outset to design evidence-based policies following rigorous standards and get engaged with legislative committees and stakeholder groups as experts in their fields. The gap between research and policy can be bridged but requires much more proactive collaboration from both sides.

Policy and Research: A Two-Way Street

Jenni Owen, policy director in office of N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, moderated a panel about the two-way street between policy and research.

Manoj Mohanan, assistant professor of public policy,drew on his experiences working in developing countries to stress the importance of building relationships for successful program evaluation and better informed policymaking. He provided examples of projects in India where studies simultaneously evaluated programs and tested academic theories, i.e. “research questions embedded in evaluation.” In one study where private doctors were contracted out by the government, they tested the effectiveness of the program on healthcare access while also assessing hypotheses about contract theory.

 Drew Cummings, chief of staff for the Durham County manager,  echoed Mohanan’s emphasis on relationships and gave examples where multilateral arrangements proved most effective in making evidenced-based policy. He highlighted the success of the Durham Children’s Data Center, a cooperative effort between three parties, each with something different to offer: Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, Durham Public Schools, and Durham County government. Success comes from bringing together institutions that generate and hold data, those that have the capacity to evaluate data, and policymakers themselves.

Touching on some points from the first panel, Cummings emphasized the importance of “translating” academic findings to make them easier to understand as well as the role of political and fiscal feasibility. Mohanan reiterated that political realities will ultimately decide policies, underscoring the importance of evaluation from the outset.


Evidenced-Based Decisonmaking

The final panel focused on evidence-based decision policy making in three distinct ways: lessons learned, the current political and ideological context of decision making, and future efforts to make administrative data more accessible to all. It was moderated by Ron Haskins, past president of APPAM and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Kathy Stack, Vice-President of Evidence-based Innovation at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, talked about how both G.W. Bush and Obama prioritized the use of evidence-based decision-making in their administrations. One challenge was that agencies had little capacity and limited resources to conduct rigorous evaluations. With the 2008 fiscal crisis and an influx of federal funds, policymakers and researchers in Obama’s administration realized they had an opportunity to design programs in an intentional way to better evaluate their outcomes. Institutionalized evidence-based practices, like Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office, became common as agencies began to reflect on how programs could be structured and evaluated.

Daniel Gitterman, professor of public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, highlighted the importance of understanding political context. Sometimes policy makers can be hesitant to share data because they may not want to know the answer about their policy’s effectiveness or may only want evidence that justifies their policies. For example, Gitterman said when North Carolina cut unemployment benefits and reduced the maximum payout to families, unemployment numbers decreased. Some politicians interpreted this to mean the reduction in benefits caused a reduction in unemployment. Without the data to further explore this relationship, it was impossible to know for sure what the effect was. Political context can play a role in whether or not evidence-based decision making is used throughout the political process.

The conversation then shifted to strengthening existing administrative data. Federal and state agencies have begun to link administrative data, like student loans and census data, to create more complete databases and ask more complex questions about the impact of their programs. Stacks emphasized that trust among these agencies was key in sharing data. In some cases, informal working groups help enable dialogue about best practices and also provide avenues for Congress to solicit evaluations and input.

Cost and feasibility matter to policy makers, Haskin said, and cross-sector collaboration between agencies, policy makers, and researchers are essential in effective evidence-based decision making practices.


Interactive Component Feedback

The following notes are comments and responses to the highlighted questions below presented in the interactive activity at the APPAM Institutional Member Forum at Duke. Various policy actors, university faculty, doctoral students, researchers, and community partners who attended the forum have provided their feedback listed in the bullet points below. For any questions on the activity, please contact Margaret Maes or Patience Wall at and


For our policy practitioners: what is the most important thing you need to connect with research?

  • Non-technical version of research- plain language, graphics, short (less than 5 pages)
  • Evidence clearing house whose contents are tagged (and searchable) with clear descriptions of intervention, who it works for and under what circumstances
  • Achievement of policy objectives, but with focus on political mileage and improvement in citizen perception about government- Abhishek Jain, Sanford School MIDP Fellow
  • Governments need templates for sharing and protecting data used for research
  • Time: consolidated information, suggestions, and discussions in one place at one time. (organized discussions to hear many perspectives efficiently)

For faculty/researchers/students: what is the most important thing you need for policy engagement?

  • Well-defined channels for engaging( and “teaching”) policymakers
  • Inclusive relationships and conversations. Transparency
  • Likelihood of my research being implemented and [used] as an aid to improve policy effectiveness- Abhishek Jain, Sanford School MIDP Fellow
  • Summaries of key research (top level facts/ findings)
  • Professional development workshops
  • Government agencies willing to use tools like randomization to rigorously evaluate the effects of programs
  • Faculty need to be educated about alternatives to peer reviewed journals. Ex. Stanford Innovation resources Campus Community Partnerships for Health online pub-peer reviewed
  • Cross comparison across states/cities/programs (different levels)
  • When are “my” issues being discussed, by whom, and how can I talk to them?
  • An invitation!
  • Universities need to recognize the value of engaged scholarship in promotion and tenure

Name one resource (could be a person, organization, or material) that you have found useful (or would be useful) for policy engagement to add to our list (which is in your handouts)?

  • EPIC-N, Education Partnerships for innovation in Communities Network. Implementing Academic- Public partnerships


Up to $4,000 available for Policy Engagement

The Policy Bridge has funds available for policy engagement activities that serve to catalyze, expand, or enhance efforts to connect the worlds of research and public policy. Up to $4,000 is available for each grant. Click here for more details and contact to submit your application

2015-16 grantees include:

  • Sanford Professor Bruce Jentleson’s project is on Track Two diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia on Syria. Professor Jentleson has been part of a small team of Americans meeting with Russian counterparts to seek progress on Syria in coordination with the U.S. Government. Engagement funds will allow Professor Jentleson to meet on different occasions with U.S. officials at the National Security Council, Departtment of State, and Department of Defense.
  • Political Science Professor Tim Buthe took students from his class on U.S. Antitrust to Washington, DC to meet with policymakers and practitioners in federal antitrust regulation.
  • Sanford Professor Kathryn Whetten organized a Maternal and Child Health conference with Policy Bridge support. The Policy Bridge helped recruit attendees from policy community and a student to live tweet the event. This student also wrote an article on highlights of the policy relevant aspects of the conference.
  • Sanford Professor Leslie Babinski’s project to produce a short video about the findings from a pilot study to promote academic success for Latino English Learners. The video will bridge research, policy, and practice by providing an accessible way for school district administrators, principals, teachers, and policymakers to learn about the components of the professional development program and the study’s findings.

Making State-Level Connections

The Policy Bridge is well-positioned to help reach out to the state level policy community. During the visit to Duke by the United States Comptroller General and head of the General Accountability Office, Jenni Owen leveraged connections at the state level to arrange for engagement opportunities between the North Carolina State Controller, county officials and Comptroller Gene Dodaro. These connections resulted in fruitful exchanges and created new connections between Duke and practitioners at the state and local levels.

When United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson delivered a public lecture at the Sanford School, the Policy Bridge invited N.C. Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry and Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry, both of whom attended the talk and one of whom joined Secretary Johnson, faculty, and students for a private dinner following the talk. These opportunities have yielded further interaction between Duke faculty and state leaders.

For a panel discussion and reception at Sanford featuring policy and practice leaders in the fight against human trafficking, the Policy Bridge provided names of key contacts within Duke and the broader community that would likely be interested in attending. The outreach resulted in enhancements to the event, including:

  • Duke Law alumna Libby M. Coles, Chairperson for the NC Human Trafficking Commission, attended the event and spoke about her organization from the podium during the Q & A.
  • Lina Nealon, founding director of Demand Abolition, a national program to combat human trafficking by focusing on the demand, attended the reception.
  • A Masters in Social Work student working with an anti-human trafficking case management program called Project FIGHT had a table at the reception.

HB2 Policy Brief

hb2-briefIn the wake of the controversy surrounding North Carolina’s House Bill 2, a Global Health Professor approached the Policy Bridge for help crafting a policy brief that outlines the deleterious effect of the bill on the health of North Carolinians. The Policy Bridge provided guidance on the structure and presentation of this professor’s main points, as well as suggestions for how to disseminate the piece.

Finding community partners for funding applications

A Duke researcher contacted the Policy Bridge for help identifying a community partner for a fellowship application. The funder required the researcher to work with a community partner that would help put the research findings into practice.  The Policy Bridge generated ideas that fit the research priorities and connected with specific individuals, resulting in a stronger application.

Sanford’s Policy Bridge has provided crucial support in two of my recent projects. Jenni generated ideas regarding several community agencies that would fit our research priorities and connected us with specific individuals in the community agencies to discuss our ideas. One of these individuals partnered with us on the submission of the fellowship application.

– Jen Lansford, Research Professor, Sanford School

Linking to Durham Public Schools

The Policy Bridge helps Duke faculty and researchers identify potential partners and build relationships with them. Leveraging prior experience with Durham Public Schools (DPS), the Policy Bridge has helped a Duke researcher build relationships with key partners. As a result, these researchers have forged a strong partnership with DPS that will increase their access to data and help improve the quality of the final product.

Jenni Owen offered invaluable assistance in forging a research partnership with the Durham Public Schools.

  • Carolyn Barnes, Sanford School assistant professor

Helping the Duke Global Health Institute Engage Stakeholders

The Policy Bridge helped the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) plan a stakeholder engagement strategy to broaden the reach of its research on an innovative integration treatment model for persons with hepatitis C and alcohol use. This assistance will allow DGHI to generate broader interest in a maximally feasible care model for these patients.

It was mind-changing for us to consider engaging the people who might ultimately use our findings now, prior to study results.

  • Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, Associate Research Professor, Global Health; Director, DGHI Evidence Lab

2016 Family Impact Seminar

fisOn September 22nd, 2016, N.C. State legislators and other guests gathered for a discussion on “The Intersections of Child Welfare and Substance Abuse: Strategies for Supporting Families.” This was the 10th in a series of Family Impact Seminars designed to provide objective, non-advocacy, solution-oriented research on timely issues selected by policymakers. The seminars encourage policymakers to consider the impact of policies on families, just as they regularly consider the impact of policies on the economy and the environment.

Seminar materials are available here.

To view a recording of the seminar, watch here.

Special thanks to Susan Foosness (Public Consulting Group) for her leadership role in planning the 2016 N.C. Family Impact Seminar.

A Duke law professor asked the Policy Bridge for help identifying policymakers and practitioners in North Carolina who were experts on a specific K-12 education policy question that the legal clinic was considering addressing.

At the request of a Duke Medical School professor, the Policy Bridge provided guidance to Duke Vaccine Institute leaders about strategies for incorporating policy engagement into their work and for communicating policy-relevant findings to a range of stakeholders.

The Bridge program helped to bring together faculty who were interested in thinking through the area of vaccine policy and vaccine education, as a connection to both the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the Department of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine.

– Sallie Permar, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and Immunology, Human Vaccine Institute, Duke University Medical Center

« Older posts

© 2020 Policy Bridge

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑