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President's column

By adapting to the culture and needs of policymakers, researchers can help shape policy concerning the health and well-being of children.

By Jennie Noll

Dear Colleagues:

Jennie G. Noll, PhD As we face a challenging political climate with respect to potential deep cuts to Medicaid and other programs that serve and support vulnerable children, the urgency with which our collective efforts should coalesce around informing the course of change has never been so pressing. As an informed group of practitioners and academic researchers, we can do this by engaging in commentary and policy analysis to directly address dwindling resource and by conducting policy-relevant research that can be translated into messages that resonate with policymakers. Like many of you, my training did not include aspects of policy analysis or how to recognize and articulate the policy implications of my work. As such I continually ask myself, “How can I leverage my own work and resources to contribute to the discussion?” It turns out that there are indeed such opportunities, many of which are right under my nose. What I need is a bit more education from some patient individuals who can help me understand what to focus on, how to identify outlets for discourse and where to begin.

On June 5, 2017, our section hosted a day-long workshop titled “Improving the Use of Research Evidence in Policy” at the APA national offices in Washington, D.C. The workshop was co-sponsored by Div. 37 and Penn State's Translational Center for Child Maltreatment Studies (P50HD551411; PI: Noll). In recognition that few scientists have received formal training in ways to engage in the political process or how to translate their work for a legislative audience, the workshop showcased the Research-to-Policy Collaboration (RPC) model which addresses barriers to the use of empirical evidence by policymakers by identifying policy priorities and facilitating connections between legislative staff and relevant research experts.

Led by Taylor Bishop Scott of the National Prevention Science Coalition, the training began with a discussion of the cultural differences between researchers and policymakers which can create barriers to the collaborative process. For example, researchers are specialized and narrow in their area of expertise, rely on journals and conferences for information, work in long and deliberative time frames and make decisions based on empirical evidence. Policymakers, on the other hand, have an extensive, gist knowledge base, rely on news, staffers and colleagues for information, work in short and opportunistic time frames that are often driven by the news, respond to public support when making decisions and are concerned with how policy changes would affect the constituents in their own district. By adapting to the culture and needs of policymakers, researchers can indeed contribute to the political process.

We then received a crash course in how a bill becomes a law and became familiar with policy lingo. We were educated on how to track legislation and keep abreast of pending or emerging legislative initiatives and the importance of appealing to the passions of legislators based on their own state initiatives and the concerns. Examples of well-produced policy briefs and effectively distilled information were provided. We learned how to structure a congressional briefing, the importance of expert testimony, how to identify and engage congressional research staff and the difference between lobbying and advocacy. The day culminated in mock information sessions where subgroups met with actual congressional staffers to practice skills of engagement and knowledge transfer.

The essential importance of identifying policy levers was showcased throughout the day in terms of identifying the hot-button substantive issues that can be targeted to spur social change. Once identified, researchers and advocates can partner with congressional research staff to champion these issues, bringing them to the attention legislators. As the day unfolded, it became clear to the several section members in attendance that we could do more for our membership to track child maltreatment-specific policy levers.Angelique Day, our section member-at-large and federal legislative staffer, attended the workshop as a section board member but also to lead the mock sessions as a legislative staffer. Angelique has agreed to provide an article for this and subsequent newsletters summarizing the current and looming legislative activities that can be identified as child maltreatment policy levers to help guide our thinking and advocacy. Thank you, Angelique.

More and more we are all called to include policy recommendations in the discussion sections of our research articles. The workshop highlighted how powerful these discussions can be and that staffers rely heavily on published empirical research with clearly articulated policy-relevant language that can be used in drafting legislation and engendering support for passing bills.

Angelique's articles will provide a valuable service to section members as she organizes and summarizes key issues that can be referenced in our discussion sections and aid us in thinking through the policy implications of our work. I urge members to utilize this expertise when crafting your own discussions of policy implications.

In closing I would like to thank Taylor Bishop Scott for the very informative workshop, Angelique Day for participating in the workshop and for producing the policy summary article for the newsletter and Stephanie Block for helping me summarize the flow of the workshop. We will offer this workshop annually and will solicit the board and membership to find the best time to offer it in order to maximize participation.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at Convention.