I am constantly hearing frustrated declarations that research evidence rarely impacts policy. Although researchers work hard to create and make sense of evidence in the hopes that it may shift the gears that run our society, that little seed of doubt constantly surfaces… will anything I do truly have an impact beyond the academic sphere?
This past spring, I took a fantastic course called “Health Care Policy” with Christopher Simms at Dalhousie University. The course involved learning about the policy implementation process, how policy agenda is set, etc. We discussed current events and engaged in animated debates about how policy can possibly be influenced by non-policymakers such as ourselves. As a final project, we wrote a policy analysis paper and presented our findings to the class. I was interested in classroom acoustics policy in Canada as it is a topic that received much public attention in 2009, yet unfortunately resulted in zero movement onto the policy agenda. The issue has not been revisited in Canada since.
I met with my professor to discuss the idea that my paper could be revised into a manuscript for submission to a Canadian journal. This was a logical next step since the topic seemed to be of interest to the Speech-Language & Audiology Canada association, as determined through some email exchanges.
At this point, I am looking around for other articles on policy analysis to see how others have organized their ideas. As I search, I wonder…
Were any of these articles ever read?
Were they ever read specifically by policymakers?
Did any of these articles have an actual impact on the policies that they discussed?
Who might potentially read my article?
Should I even try to publish an article such as this one?
This made me stop and consider what the purpose of writing such an article might be. It would appear at first glance that the purpose of a policy analysis article is to make a recommendation as to the most viable and feasible policy option that should be implemented by policymakers. Technically, this is true. However, given what we know about policy implementation, I hardly think that my little article would ever achieve this purpose if that were the sole obective.
Then I thought, well, how does an issue get onto the policy agenda in the first place if not through the publication of research evidence? As we discussed in our course and as I hear all around me in discussions on the decisions made by our public servants, it is ultimately public awareness and pressure that seem to drive policymaking. Therefore, my little article should be geared to the public, that is, stakeholders not policymakers.
Stakeholders would be those who would be affected by a new policy designed to improve classroom acoustics. This includes parents of children who may benefit from improved classroom acoustics, classroom teachers, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and school administration. Ultimately, if those individuals are better informed then they can advocate for a change in policy better than I ever could through the methods that suit them best, such as social media posts, media attention and direct interaction with policymakers.
How does this affect my decision to publish? Here is what I think:
- Yes, I should go ahead and publish my little policy analysis article in a small Canadian journal
- The journal that I choose MUST be open access (i.e., anyone can read the article without need for a subscription to the journal)
- I should write in an accessible and interesting style
- The title must be clear and enticing
- Once the article is published, I should share the link on social media
In other words, I cannot write this article for academics. I cannot write this article for policymakers. I must write this article to empower and educate those who can advocate for change in policy. And if it happens to reach a policymaker who can make a difference, then that would be wonderful, but I won’t be banking on it.
Image: found through Google images search at http://www.districtdispatch.org/2015/06/ala-releases-national-policy-agenda-for-libraries/