Evidence-Based Policymaking: Insights from Policy-Minded Researchers and Research-Minded Policymakers

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Evidence-Based Policymaking: Insights from Policy-Minded Researchers and Research-Minded Policymakers. Karen Bogenschneider and Thomas J. Corbett. New York: Routledge. 2010. 347 pp. ISBN 0415805841. $39.95 paper.

Karen Bogenschneider and Tom Corbett are faculty members at the University of Wisconsin -Madison (UW), each with a lifetime of experience in policy science and policy education. Bogenschneider directs the Family Impact Seminars (FIS) Network, also based at UW, simply described as a network of nearly 30 states, each with a state coordinator, following a particular protocol and philosophy for the delivery of nonpartisan educational seminars on timely topics of interest to state policymakers. I serve as the FIS coordinator in my state; at present, our state FIS is one of four states receiving funding from the Kellogg Foundation through UW for a special series of seminars focused on vulnerable children. The FIS network has spawned an enormous array of policy briefs and educational materials, all available on the Web site of the Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars (http://familjampactseminars.org). Bogenschneider, Corbett, and colleagues take seriously the obligation to evaluate the FIS. But the obligation and opportunity they take most seriously is to provide nonpartisan, evidence-based information to policymakers through an educational process they describe as "advocacy with a small a." This type of advocacy brings "the needs of a particular group to policymakers' attention, but without lobbying for a particular policy option," and is distinct from political advocacy commonly understood as "casting evidence in a certain light so as to influence policymakers toward a particular policy option" (p. 228). This distinction could not be more important in understanding Bogenschneider and Corbett' s policy work in general and this text in particular. They are committed to the idea that policymaking can be infused with evidence, that research findings can find a place in the policy dialogue, and that policymakers want to serve their constituents to the best of their abilities. To those ends, the authors think, talk with a broad range of people, lecture, train, and write with a seemingly indefatigable energy about ways to bring together policy researchers and serious policymakers to better serve America's families. Their latest book on this work must be placed in that context. Evidence-Based Policymaking: Insights from Policy-Minded Researchers and ResearchMinded Policymakers is part of a decades-long conversation about how to improve policymaking on behalf of all families. If the writing and tone are at times, well, earnest, it is because the authors care so deeply and believe so strongly that policy scientists and policymakers can cooperate toward this common goal, with integrity, independence, and mutual respect. I use Bogenschneider' s 2006 text, Family Policy Matters, in a graduate social policy class, so I was prepared and eager to read this latest volume, and it did not disappoint. Although a reader could certainly begin with Evidence-Based Policymaking, it does not hurt to have some familiarity with the seminars and with the authors' approach to policy education and advocacy, as this text deepens their previous presentations of the FIS work and approach. That fact notwithstanding, whether the reader is new to the approach or a veteran FIS leader, Evidence-Based Policymaking is a remarkably useful text.

The authors guide the reader through an organized and thorough discussion of the worlds of policy researchers, policymakers, the disconnect between those worlds, and the great potential for good when the policy and research domains find common ground. They bring to bear their professional experience, policy research, FIS-generated data, historical perspective, and considerable savvy about politics and politicians. Although this is a serious text, on some level, a policy wonk will find that it is fun to read the stories and examples these seasoned policy practitioners offer about well-intentioned scientists (including themselves) and their na? …


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