The use of research evidence: An ethnographic study of policymakers and researchers

Shannon Guillot-Wright, PhD1 and Kathryn Oliver, PhD2
(1)University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, (2)London, United Kingdom

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The prevalence of health inequities in the U.S., as well as the associated adverse mental and physical health outcomes, underscores the need for evidence-informed research that can inform legislation and the legislative process. However, policymakers rely on complex systems and networks, both formal and informal, when creating or signing onto legislation. Concurrently, scholars are also embedded in networks within and outside of academia that shape the scientific process as well as their political engagement. In order to study the use of research evidence in policymaking, then, one must be intertwined in the complicated and often messy relationships between policymakers and scholars. To accomplish this, we conducted an ethnographic study with legislative staffers in the U.S. Congress and with researchers who were engaging in the research-to-policy space. The ethnography is a study of the tensions in the policy arena, such as the tensions of neutrality and non-partisanship, and includes 1) over 60 semi-structured interviews with congressional staffers and researchers; 2) over 15 Hill Day meetings observed between staffers who requested research and researchers who presented their evidence; 3) over 10 interviews and 30 participant observations with staff implementing the program; and 4) 5 trainings observed between researchers who wanted to engage in the legislative process. We present analyses of these data, taking an interpretive and narrative approach.

Diversity and culture Public health or related public policy Public health or related research Social and behavioral sciences Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health