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What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys

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Background: Policy advocates play a key role linking the separate worlds of research and policymaking ‐ often serving as research brokers who increase the use of research and promoting more informed decision making. Yet this group is often overlooked in studies of research utilisation.

Methods: We undertook two surveys of state-level advocates in the United States in order to better understand the views of these ‘research brokers’ on the utility of research and the characteristics of research most needed in the policymaking process.

Findings: The advocates we surveyed report that research plays an important, if limited, role in shaping the policy outcomes in their state. They value objective and unbiased research, as evidenced by the credibility of the source, and relevance to their state context. At the same time, advocates were not particularly interested in novel research on unfamiliar outcomes in other policy domains, instead preferring studies that stick to the familiar framing of the issue dominant in the policy community in which they work. Advocates use research findings primarily as justification for their policy positions.

Discussion and conclusion: Perceived impartiality and objectivity are a major asset of academic researchers seeking to influence the policy process. Advocates value this credibility and other sources of information that they can use to justify their policy positions. At the same time, their preference for familiar rather than novel findings may limit the degree to which policy advocates can serve as intermediary for such results, hampering the ability of research to reframe policy debate.
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Keywords: knowledge brokers; lobbying; policy research; research utilisation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Missouri, USA 2: George Washington University, USA

Publication date: August 2021

This article was made available online on October 7, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys".

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