The Translation of Research into Policy: Sharing Experiences Between Experts in Both Fields
Harvard University, Class of 2015
Last semester, I was able to experience and witness policymaking first-hand during my internship in the National Economic Council at the White House. I put aside the public perceptions of how policy decisions are made, the misconceptions of how the government functions, and the questions of what goes on in that large white house behind the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue.
At Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute, my SUMR mentors consist of physicians, economists, and researchers – and in a sense, each of them possesses qualities of each title: the ability to listen, support, synthesize, discover, and create change. Since being here, I’ve come to think about the differences between research and policy a lot more: the translation of research into policy and vice versa, and the gap that exists between but also within individuals to make this translation possible.
Researchers in the world of academia sometimes only have their eyes on the questions that they desire to answer, and only at the end of their studies do they begin to wonder how their conclusions can impact policy. It is important to note that there are many different types of research, like the testing of the effectiveness of different drugs so that pharmacists know which ones to prescribe, or the cost-benefit analysis of health care policies in various countries around the world. Some researchers conduct research for the sake of knowledge and discovery – results that are highly valued and respected in the world of academia. However, policymakers want succinct results that align with their views and address the day-to-day issues. They need immediate answers and evidence to support their arguments. There is a lot of discussion in academia about the translation of research into policy, but consider the reverse gap in communication: how do policymakers effectively inform researchers about what evidence they need? How can researchers come up with conclusions fast enough to address these needs?
This gap can gradually be reduced if more individuals gain experience in both the fields of research and policy in order to understand how the other operates and thinks. Should there be workshops or training programs to cultivate these shared skills and knowledge? Should there be multidisciplinary conferences that focus on this problem? These are not questions that can be answered immediately, and this is not a problem that can be solved with one method, but it is definitely a gap that more people should be thinking about.