Mission driven agencies, like the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, can benefit from relevant research. These agencies’ research offices might be the most invested in your research interests and would be most willing to speak to you. However, take into consideration how the agency’s research priorities and the staff’s responsibilities can shift given political influences.
- Reach out at the beginning of your research project to ensure that you can answer the agency/agencies’ research questions
- Note: This does not mean that your research needs to completely change, it may need minor shifts
- Prioritize collaboration
- Familiarize yourself with agency and perhaps legislative timelines, such as the deadline for the budget
- Be responsive
Example: Sold a Story The Sold a Story podcast by Emily Hanford shed light on the war on misinformation in education in the late 90s and early 2000s. Teaching phonics was scientifically proven to be the most effective way to teach children how to read. However, cued reading became popularized in the 80s because it was believed to be the fastest way to teach students to become fluent readers, based on a study in New Zealand in the 70s. The author of the study created a program called Reading Recovery on the principle that cued reading was superior and phonics was only for readers who had challenges reading. In the United States, reading scores declined as Reading Recovery was adopted by teachers nationwide. The Bush Administration launched the Reading First program to bring back phonics reading in instruction, while teachers and other supporters of cueing protested the change.
This example clearly demonstrates how policymakers decide how to spend our tax dollars.
In a situation like this, we must ask some questions:
- What do we know about this and what’s the science?
- Who is involved as a stakeholder?
- Who makes decisions about which textbooks to buy?
- How do we know if practices are evidence-based?
- Where do things go awry?
These decisions are often random and influenced in ways we are not consciously aware of. It’s important to keep in mind that in situations like this, some people have their hearts in the right place.
Example: School Bullying Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., has conducted pivotal studies in school bullying that informed programs funded by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The federal government awards large grants of funding to award communities that have successfully mitigated school bullying in the ways that Dorothy recommended. Dorothy’s work has been important for informing exactly the kinds of criteria that the DOJ is looking for.
Your matter of expertise is valuable to the federal government, and it could influence where taxpayer dollars go.
|Communicating with Agency Staff|
|Plain language and concise documents|
“In researching this program, I have identified the impacts and benefits of encouraging affordable housing in high resource areas, and I’ve attached a short policy brief that you may find relevant to your work.”
|Jargon and long, dense documents|
“I am interested in the way the Census tracts are classified by the TCAC and their associated developments, and I wanted to share my article that compares locational patterns pre- and post-incentive.”
“I have seen the efforts of your agency to address the rising level of those experiencing homelessness in the state, and I would love to meet to discuss how I might be able to support this work.”Learn about the agency staff’s expectations and long/short-term goals.
|Only focusing on educating agency staffers|
“I have been concerned about the rising level of those experiencing homelessness in the state, and have research that I think would inform and redirect the work you are doing – I would be happy to walk you through my findings.”
|Try to mirror agency language|
“I have seen that the Department of Health is working to review the state’s requirements for vaccines for children, and I have research that may provide some insight.”
|Using politically charged language|
“It is extremely troubling that the Department of Health has failed to address serious lapses in vaccine requirements for children. The agency must set aside political pressure in order to take needed, immediate action.”
|Be aware of their work|
“I’m aware the Department has recently been allocated funding by the state legislature to set up a pilot program for restorative justice in schools, and I wanted to share my research which may help set up the program to its best effect.”
|Missing context and unreasonable expectations|
“My research highlights the importance of restorative justice in schools, and I believe that the Department of Education should look into these policies and work to implement them statewide.”