Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Forging Common Ground: Fostering the Conditions for Evidence Use

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Forging Common Ground: Fostering the Conditions for Evidence Use

Article excerpt

The birth of community psychology is often dated to the 1965 Swampscott Conference. In the midst of widespread social change, a group of psychologists were dissatisfied with their field's almost exclusive focus on the individual and individual-level interventions. They wanted to examine the ways social and ecological contexts such as schools, churches, neighborhoods, and entire communities affected people. And, they sought to change those contexts as a means to improve individual and community well-being. As a young student, I was drawn to this field that aspired to meld research and action. It appealed to my predispositions-nerdy enough to enjoy research but eager to improve social conditions.

While graduate school provided excellent research training and reinforced my interest in integrating research and action, it didn't show me how to integrate them. The truth is that I came out more confused than I went in, and I don't think my experience is unique. As doctoral students face graduation, they often express a desire to work at the nexus of research and policy or practice-but they are unsure how. I was lucky enough to end up at the William T. Grant Foundation. Ed Seidman had just been hired as senior vice president for program, and he recruited me as a postdoctoral fellow and program associate. Ed told me that the Foundation's goals were to further research that made a difference in policy and practice, and it would be a good place to pursue the questions that had been eluding me.

In 2004-the same year I joined the Foundation-we launched our Distinguished Fellows program, which immerses researchers in policy and practice settings and policymakers and practitioners in research settings. In 2008, we issued our first RFP on Understanding the Acquisition, Interpretation, and Use of Research Evidence in Policy and Practice. Last year, we aligned our program development funding around improving the connections between research and practice, focusing partially on research-practice partnerships.

This essay draws on those three initiatives to offer lessons my colleagues and I have learned about ways to connect research, policy, and practice-and ultimately forge common ground. I also offer a few cautionary notes about how policymakers and researchers are currently pursuing evidence-based practice. Below I discuss (1) creating conditions for the productive integration of evidence, (2) paving two-way streets for learning, and (3) building relationships and trust.

Create Conditions for the Productive integration of Evidence

Political scientists Lorraine McDonnell and Stephen Weatherford were among the first round of grantees from our RFP. Their project follows the Common Core State Standards movement, an effort to promote consistency across states in what children are expected to learn from kindergarten through high school (McDonnell & Weatherford, 2013). The movement, they say, provides a window into understanding the uses of research in policy and practice. After all, "advocates for the Common Core explicitly promoted it as 'research and evidence-based' and established procedures to encourage the use of research in drafting and validating the standards." The movement began when President George H. W. Bush and a handful of governors agreed that states would develop educational standards for particular subjects at each grade level. The focus on "national standards" during the Bush, Sr. and Clinton administrations made some inroads. But things didn't kick into high gear until the movement became a state-driven "common standards" initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Obama administration's response to the 2008 economic crisis accelerated the action further by tying economic incentives to adoption of common standards in Race to the Top. To date, 45 states have adopted the standards in math and English language arts.

McDonnell and Weatherford's work details how the writers of the Common Core Standards sought out research, but soon came upon roadblocks. …

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