RAPID: Testing Science Communication Strategies and Impact among Policymakers During a National Crisis

Project: Research project

Project Details


Given the magnitude of the current crisis caused by COVID-19, it has arguably never been more important for scientists to communicate to policymakers their research on virus transmission, prevention, and social and economic consequences that families face. The time sensitive nature of policymakers' acquisition and use of information sources regarding COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to study effective science communication practices and their impact. This proposal aims to capitalize and expand upon recent successes of a theory-based model, the Research-to-Policy Collaboration (RPC), by: (1) facilitating science communication and dissemination among federal and state policymakers, (2) studying mechanisms for improving science communication strategies and (3) testing the impact of science dissemination efforts and added value of scientist interactions with state and federal policymakers. By getting critical scientific information regarding a current national crisis into the hands of individuals who can act on it, science-based policies may improve the lives of individuals affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We need to identify ways to effectively reach policymakers and inform research communication strategies that can achieve social impact. Scientific information often takes over a decade before it is used in decision making. Effective research dissemination approaches have the potential to shorten that time horizon and improve the societal impact of revolutionary, cutting-edge scientific knowledge.

Study methods involve (1) deploying rapid-cycle randomized controlled trials (RCT) that examine open- and click-rates of emails that disseminate scientific information on COVID-19 to approximately 3,500 federal legislative staff and state legislators and staff who are identified as being assigned to health-related policy issues, and (2) examining the use of research in bill language and public statements (e.g., press releases, social media). Federal legislators will be randomly assigned to three groups: (i) dissemination + interactions, (ii) dissemination only, and (iii) control group. This sampling strategy builds on a current study investigating congressional-researcher interactions facilitated by an active RPC implementation. The proposed study will investigate science dissemination as an add-on component to that interactive approach. State legislators have not been assigned to receive researcher interactions via the active RPC implementation. To increase the reach of time-sensitive information, 75% of state legislators assigned to health-related committees will receive the dissemination and 25% serve as a control group. Observed use of research evidence (URE) will be quantitatively assessed in bill language and public statements, including social media, based on language that was used to validate a URE codebook in prior work. This includes a pre-test period of 1 year prior to US-based responses to COVID-19 (approximately March 1, 2020) and 1-year post-test period following the initial COVID-19 outbreak (March 2021). While the literature illustrates that timeliness and relevance are essential to URE, particularly in times of crisis, studies are needed to examine the impact of science communications and dissemination during such periods of crisis. The proposed work would build the literature base by prospectively assessing the impact of strategies for enhancing evidence use. Importantly, most studies of URE in policymaking have been done retrospectively by asking policymakers to explain how they access research and use it when developing policies. The proposed study will be a substantial asset for the URE field because it will: (1) advance knowledge of what mechanisms are most effective for conveying important and actionable scientific evidence to policymakers at both the federal and state levels and (2) improve our understanding of the impact of real-time science dissemination and interactive approaches.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date8/15/207/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $149,950.00


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