How to get universities and governments to work together

Over the years, we’ve had many discussions about the disconnect between  research that goes on at public universities and governments’ own needs for policy research. Universities and governments have different concepts of time, are motivated by conflicting goals and speak in different languages.


Result: Frustration on both sides


We bring this up because we just watched a really excellent half-day forum that was focused on bringing policymakers and academics together. The February 17th session, “Bridging Research and Policy” was sponsored by the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Its three panel discussions centered on ways to get legislators to pay attention to research; on building better relations between policy makers and universities, and on evaluation and evidence-based policy making and the uses of government administrative data.


More details about the forum are available in this write-up. The forum itself is available in its entirety here. (The intro and first panel discussion actually start about half an hour after the camera was turned on.)


Some of the major messages that came across to us:


  • Trust is critical, particularly where sensitive government data is involved, and relationships need to be nurtured.

  • Both researchers and policymakers need a safe space to have discussions with each other in private, without the threat of publicity.

  • Both would be helped if there were a systemized way for governments to know what research universities are currently engaged in.

  • Interaction is more effective than reports. Easy-to-digest visual material is better than lengthy text.

  • Academics could use the skills of marketers when presenting research and should consider the learning styles of individual legislators.

  • Governments should consider research needs for a new program or policy upfront.

  • Timing is critical for everyone. Legislators, particularly part-time legislators, have a narrow window in which they can engage on research topics.

  • Research on program and policy direction should include more attention to implementation issues and cost.

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