23 March 2017 | Making a Difference in the Real World through Public Affairs Research, By Stephanie Moulton

Andrew Osoorio, · Categories: monthly_posts

In light of the recent election in the U.S. and reliance on “alternative facts”, it is easy to feel disheartened about our role as researchers– particularly researchers who care about issues that are often central to public debates.  This topic recently came up during one of our monthly fireside chats between faculty and doctoral students at the Glenn College. How can we make a difference in our profession? Should we close our laptops and take to the streets instead? Certainly there is a time to engage in political activism, and as citizens who genuinely care about the future of our country and protecting the public interest, we can and should feel empowered to speak out.  But we can also make a difference through our research- something that we are uniquely trained and positioned to do.

During our fireside discussion, my colleague Jill Clark said something that got my wheels turning. She said that part of our role as researchers is to create “implementation resources” that can be used by practitioners on the ground as they carry out their important work.  She was speaking in the context of her work related to local food policy. As engaged scholar, Jill often collaborates with local nonprofit organizations, government agencies and policymakers to collect and compile data that she will use for her research.  Together through the research process, as survey data is collected and statistics are compiled, implementation resources are created that both groups can use for their purposes. For Jill, this is likely an academic paper to be submitted for publication, which may be of little value (at least in the short term) for the local partners. For the local partners, it may be a graphic presentation of local food data documenting the needs on the ground, which would fall far short of the standards of our academic peer review process.  Jill’s research is making a difference in the real world, not only through her academic publications, but through the creation of implementation resources.

After the discussion, I went back to my office and brushed off Heather Hill’s 2003 JPART article on implementation resources, “Understanding Implementation: Street‐Level Bureaucrats’ Resources for Reform.”  In the article, Hill defines implementation resources as “individuals or organizations that can help implementing units learn about policy, best practices for doing policy, or professional reforms meant to change the character of services delivered to clients” (269). It occurred to me that in our role as public affairs researchers, we can make a difference in the real world through our day to day process of collecting and collating data and sharing our findings. As we pull together data for our analyses, we are often creating information and artifacts, facilitating learning, and bringing together groups who may not have previously been connected. We as public affairs researchers can be more intentional about our role in the creation of implementation resources. And by doing so, we can perhaps have an even greater impact on the real world than we do through the occasional academic article that gets picked up by policymakers or brought directly into the public debate.

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