What to expect when you’re disseminating a fact sheet to legislative audiences via the Research-to-Policy Collaboration

  • We disseminate fact sheets or briefs that meet the following criteria:

    • It should focus on policy implications

    • It should be about research:  which is more than just data or statistics. It's also: causes, consequences, best practices.

    • Non-partisan: either by appealing to both sides of the aisle or being fairly neutral in orientation

    • It should not lobby for a specific action, but may list various policy directions

  • We handle the logistics and sending. Very little work will be required on your part.

  • Expect a fair number of email responses, sometimes lots of them. That’s good news! We help you navigate this influx.

    • We will send you instructions for how to set up a filter that will redirect all the incoming emails to a new folder and may forward it to our email account as well. This filter stops the emails from crowding your actual inbox.

    • While you do need to skim all of them, you will only have to interact with a few.

      • Some will be autoreplies or quick messages of “thanks for sharing”.

      • Others ask you questions, like if they can share the link with others or if you can provide the link in a non-hyperlinked format. It is your role to respond to these. Please ‘CC us on the responses you give because it helps us track your engagement.

  • Following the dissemination period of 14 days, your RPC team will follow up with you.

    • Once we have results, we’ll share them with you, including:

      • How many people opened the email and clicked on the fact sheet link?

      • Out of all the responses you got, how many are from people who also clicked the link?

      • How did different tests of science communication turn out? (Yes, these tests are IRB-approved!)

    • We will then share with you the dissemination’s impact (i.e., what it means for our broader goals).

An Example Success Story

 

     Luke developed a fact sheet on how policymakers can support healthcare workforce and their families during COVID-19. With his permission, we not only featured this fact sheet on our COVID-19 webpage, but also disseminated directly to over 7,000 state and federal lawmakers on his behalf. This mechanism was based on indicators from our other work that policymakers are more likely to open and access the direct delivery from individuals rather than organizations.

 

     The RPC sent the emails on behalf of Luke from a communication software, to send on Luke’s behalf and automatically redirect all responses to his own email. We sent Luke’s fact sheet on a Wednesday and then let the email recipients interact with it for two weeks until we closed data collection. Luke received most of the email responses on Day 1, but continued to receive a couple throughout the 14 days (and some even after that!). Keep in mind the day of the week that we send might impact when you get emails—often not over the weekend.

 

     After that 14-day period, the RPC team explored the data:

  • How many people opened the email?

  • How many times did they open it?

  • How many people clicked on the fact sheet link?

  • How many times did they click it?

  • How did different tests of science communication turn out? Did one strategy outperform another? Why do we think that is?

 

     Luke’s fact sheet distribution was a success! He got hundreds of clicks, over 10x what we would get on wider distribution mechanisms (e.g. e-newsletters). Sixty of the responses he received were from people who also clicked the link, so that influx of emails had some genuine responses. That’s why it’s important to scan through all the responses you receive. Some researchers have even been invited to do other things, such as present their work for state legislative groups.

 

     With Luke’s trial, we had tested if one subject line would outperform another. We compared a subject line that was supposed to sound like it was a title for a paper in an academic journal to one that tried to be more casual. We thought that the one that sounds academic would be opened or clicked less, given the disconnect between policymakers and academics. However, there was no significant difference. Perhaps it wasn't a strong enough manipulation or perhaps staffers/legislators really don't differentiate between lay/academic speak when selecting emails to read. 

 

     The other part we manipulated was the formatting of the email itself to look like it was coming from an organization/advocacy group (colored background, buttons) versus one that looks like, well, a normal email. We found that people clicked on the fact sheet more than 4x as often on the plain email than the fancy email. We rarely see effect sizes that strong in these trials. They were even more likely just to open the email, which maybe speaks to what spam filters look for in content. 

 

     This trial helped us understand the shortcomings of our weekly newsletters: individuals get a better response than organizations do, despite intentions of the organization. With that in mind, we have stopped sending out newsletters from RPC and are instead shifting to sending out researcher's fact sheets on their behalf, as we did with Luke. The success of Luke’s dissemination illustrates the need for researchers’ direct engagement with policymakers, and that timely, targeted evidence has the potential to generate fruitful collaborations.

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