The Research-to-Policy Collaboration (RPC) is a model for bridging research and policy, emphasizing partnerships between research experts and legislative staff.
This work began with the recognition that direct interaction between researchers and policymakers was needed to support evidence-based policy. We sought to develop a process to prepare and connect researchers with existing policy opportunities through which they could initiate working relationships with legislative staff. While this work grew out of support from the National Prevention Science Coalition, the RPC approach may be applied by a range of organizations and disciplines seeking to strengthen connections between research and policy communities.
We believe it is more fruitful to work within the context of existing policy priorities because our primary objective is to facilitate trusting partnerships between research and policy communities. Because the approach is non-partisan, we are less interested in how these problems are addressed so long as the methodologies are informed by research evidence and ultimately advance wellbeing. Therefore, we rarely take explicit stances on specific policies because, most often, there are multiple ways to approach a problem, and specific solutions tend to fall on party lines.
We instead take an educational approach by synthesizing literature related to policies, without making a plea for one policy strategy over another.
This approach contradicts the lobbying paradigm, as we are not looking to advance a specific set of policies. Rather, we work with legislators on their current efforts by providing insight and support from the scientific community.
To read more about the evidence behind our approach, visit our Empirical Rationale page.
Although certain topics can be politically loaded, the goal of facilitating the use of empirical evidence in policy requires one to work across political boundaries in trusting, collegial relationships.
As such, a non-partisan approach is necessary, or one that strives to be apolitical and does not align with the political agenda of a specific political faction. Additionally, the RPC model should be implemented with a bipartisan approach by striving to engage equally with different political factions and often works on issues with bipartisan support (e.g., Republican and Democrat cosponsors on a bill).
Partisan distinctions are largely defined by differences in the prioritization of values and accepted policy solutions. Although it is expected that RPC staff and volunteers emphasize scientific values (i.e., objectivity, observation, data-driven decision making) first and foremost in their interactions with legislative staff, these values do not operate in a social vacuum. The values that characterize the RPC-implementing organization and affiliated disciplines must be recognized, articulated, and communicated because genuine and authentic interactions are necessary prerequisites for relationship development. This requires introspection regarding how organizational values align with the values of different political factions and striving to leverage value alignments with diverse political factions that may be difficult to recognize without thoughtful assessment and strategic relationship development efforts.
We recognize our values as
1) reducing problems before they occur, and
2) a scientific approach to improving social conditions.
We emphasize data-driven accountability of public service systems; achieving fiscal goals as demonstrated with empirical, economic analyses; and opportunities and choice over mandates and regulations, which align with individual rights and local control.
In the RPC, we define advocacy broadly as activities that promote policy action around a certain cause, issue, or agenda. This includes a range of activities, including educating legislators on research, lobbying, public demonstrations, etc. Although educational efforts often strive to minimize partisanship and may involve being an "honest broker" who describes research related to a range of policy options (rather than promoting a specific option), the emphasis on using research evidence to guide effective or cost-efficient policies are values that tend to guide this discourse. Therefore, we view educational efforts as part of the advocacy continuum, even if those efforts are not designed to promote or oppose specific policy solutions.
The primary objective of the RPC is to advocate for the use of scientific evidence by establishing trusting relationships, which requires an “inside approach” to advocacy.
Such an approach involves working with policymakers in the context of existing value systems and priorities. In contrast, an “outside approach” to advocacy often aims to apply political pressure with agitation strategies that seek to compel policymakers to change their position on specific issues (e.g., petitions, protests). Outside efforts are often perceived as partisan in nature. While both outside and inside approaches are uniquely valuable for social change, forceful tactics employed in some outside advocacy efforts have the potential to damage relationships built through insider efforts. Therefore, an implementing organization is faced with a major decision: to what extent is the organization attempting to build relationships with legislators (a known facilitator to the use of empirical evidence) versus coerce changes in legislators’ positions (supporting specific changes to policies or the political agenda)? It is not recommended for organizations implementing the RPC to engage in agitation-oriented, outside-advocacy approaches as they can damage relationships along party lines.