Opportunities to improve policy dissemination by tailoring communication materials to the research priorities of legislators
Background: Communicating research to policymakers is a complex and difficult process. Sharing materials with elements tailored to specific groups of policymakers with different priorities could be a substantive improvement over one-size-fits-all dissemination approaches. To improve existing practices, we sought to identify and characterize groups of state legislators based on how they prioritize different characteristics of research.
Methods: We used deidentified data collected in 2012 on 838 state legislators belonging to the US liberal-moderate-conservative ideological spectrum and from all 50 US states. Legislators were grouped using latent class analysis (LCA) based on how they prioritized 12 different characteristics of research (e.g., research is unbiased, presents data on cost-effectiveness, policy options are feasible). We fit initial LCA models using 1-6 group solutions and chose the final model based on identification, information criteria, and substantive interpretation. The UNC IRB designated this study as exempt.
Findings: Most legislators placed a high priority on research that was brief and concise (55%), understandable (61%), unbiased (61%), and available at the time that decisions are made (58%). The best LCA model identified four groups of state legislators. One-quarter of legislators (n=205, 24%) belonged to the highly informed supporters group that placed a high priority on most characteristics of research. Conversely, uninterested skeptics (n=244, 29%) generally did not place a high priority on any of the research characteristics. Pragmatic consumers (n=308, 37%) prioritized research that was brief and concise, provided cost-effectiveness analyses, was understandably written, unbiased, and available at the time decisions were made. Finally, constituent oriented decisionmakers (n=81, 9.7%) prioritized research that was relevant to their constituents, delivered by someone they knew or trusted, available at the time decisions were made, and dealt with an issue that they felt was a priority for state legislative action.
Implications for D&I Research: To maximize the impact of dissemination efforts, researchers should consider how to communicate with legislators who have distinct preferences, values, and priorities. The groups identified in this study could be used to tailor communication materials that better reach different legislators with distinct needs and preferences. Future work should assess whether tailored communication materials improve dissemination efforts.