Legislators are not simply passive consumers of research. They gather and use research in conjunction with their own values and experiences. They also use it to understand problems they encounter in their capacity as lawmakers, and to substantiate their ideas and positions.1 The extent to which they use research varies widely, based on their organizational culture,2 as well as their ability to acquire research that is relevant and rigorous, adapt it to local conditions, and apply it to current problems.3
Generally, the literature identifies five ways that policymakers use research:
Researchers continue to study these concepts, further examining whether and how research is used by policymakers to change and shape their ideas.7
Although it is rarely a linear process, policies go through stages of development before they are finalized, and research is used in different ways at each stage. First, legislators define a problem that needs a solution, often in a way that suggests a particular type of policy. At this stage, policymakers will combine research on the extent and cause of the problem, combined with their own ideas and values, which may themselves be informed by research. In other words, conceptual usage of research dominates. After the problem has been defined and a general policy direction has been chosen, the specific details of a plan are hammered out. This is when instrumental use of research is most common, but, since time is short, predesigned programs may take precedence. In the next stage, legislators push for the policy to be enacted, primarily using research in a tactical way: to persuade allies and discredit detractors.8 Legislators are often only peripherally involved in the final stage, implementation.
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