The Relationship Between Research Results and Public Policy

Authors: Arnold Binder (University of California, Irvine) & Virginia L. Binder (California State University, Long Beach)

Publication:  Contemporary Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice (eds., Henry N. Pontell & David Shichor)

Year: 2001

Focus Area:  Connecting Research & Policy

Relevance: This text outlines the dangers of implementing policy based on early social science research, and suggests a conservative guideline for evaluating, implementing, and monitoring research-based policy changes.

Summary: How solid must research be before it is transformed into policy
changes?  If later research counters early findings, the damage of hasty recommendations and new programs may already be done, and difficult to reverse.

Wellford (1997, 3) is cited, describing the criminology field: “…we should be concerned about the fact that we have far more impact on public policy than we deserve. Someone produces a modestly adequate piece of research demonstrating that some type of program has some kind of positive effect on some kind of crime in some place for some limited time, and suddenly the program is adopted as a national model.”  (p. 37)

However, it is understood that “policy revision and implementation… cannot always wait for decades of research”.  With this in mind, the authors offer the following guidelines:

  1. Research must be solid – quality design, peer review, and replication
  2. Sample of people studied must represent the target population for any policy
  3. Implemented policy should be monitored for potential “side effects.”
  4. Research should include clear direction for policy makers, to avoid misunderstanding or
  5. Social scientists should not persistently advocate their own research products.

First Paragraph: Rosenberg (1988) has presented two ways of
conceiving the goal of social science: improving prediction of increasing intelligibility.  The latter does provide an epistemological basis for many branches of the social sciences, such as anthropology and urban sociology.  But prediction is central for social scientists (Rosenberg 1988, 197, 198) “interested in knowledge that can be applied to informing social…policy, that can be used to predict the consequences of planning or its absence.”

Full text: Hard Copy Only