DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2306890121 ISSN: 0027-8424

Democratizing social scientists’ impact on federal policy: Using the evidence act to help government and ourselves

Christina Ciocca Eller
  • Multidisciplinary

It is common for social scientists to discuss the implications of our research for policy. However, what actions can we take to inform policy in more immediate and impactful ways, regardless of our existing institutional affiliations or personal connections? Focusing on federal policy, I suggest that the answer requires understanding a basic coordination problem. On the government side, the Foundations of Evidence-based Policymaking Act (2018) requires that large federal agencies pose, communicate, and answer research questions related to their effects on people and communities. This advancement has opened the black box of federal agency policy priorities, but it has not addressed capacity challenges: These agencies often do not have the financial resources or staff to answer the research questions they pose. On the higher education side, we have more than 150,000 academic social scientists who are knowledge producers and educators by training and vocation. However, especially among those in disciplinary departments, or those without existing institutional or personal connections to federal agencies, we often feel locked out of federal policymaking processes. In this article, I define the coordination problem and offer concrete actions that the academic and federal government communities can take to address it. I also offer leading examples of how academics and universities are making public policy impact possible in multiple governmental spheres. I conclude by arguing that both higher education institutions and all levels of government can do more to help academic social scientists put our knowledge to work in service of the public good.

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