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How science and policy can coexist in NC

In light of recent media coverage about tensions between scientists, policymakers, and journalists, North Carolinians may be surprised to learn about successful collaborations between researchers and policymakers happening right here in our state. Last week, nearly 100 state lawmakers and staff, civic leaders, journalists, and researchers came together in Raleigh around a shared commitment to using research to inform public policy.

As organizers of this event and leaders of the North Carolina chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network—a non-partisan, member-driven, voluntary association of university-based scholars—we connect policymakers, civic leaders, and journalists with our state’s top researchers to improve policy and strengthen democracy.

Our organization does not have a political platform or ideology, and we don’t endorse candidates; our mission is to get research into the hands of people who want to use scientific evidence to inform important decisions.

For researchers, it can sometimes feel as though there is not enough room in the policyscape for science and evidence-based research. However, we need science to inform policy. Why spend a lifetime studying a topic only to not share your insights with the policy makers who need it most—especially if you already have the science to show what has or hasn’t worked in the past?

For policymakers, why not invest in programs that have been successful in other states? From Washington, DC, to state capitals to city halls, public policy should be informed by the best research and evidence.

During our event, the room buzzed with conversations about early childhood education, water infrastructure, industrial hemp, Medicaid, school safety, and a host of other topics. Perhaps more importantly, these conversations led to valuable information sharing among the different stakeholders.

As we walked around the room we heard researchers sharing their insights with legislators, legislators detailing their decision-making process with civic leaders, civic leaders discussing their data needs with researchers, and researchers discussing new partnerships to enhance the policy relevance of their work.

As Dr. Sairam Jabba, a neuroscientist at Duke University said, “I had a conversation with a group of individuals with backgrounds as diverse as you can get—ranging from transportation, computational data science, tobacco policy and education—but our discussion evolved into developing innovative solutions in a collaborative manner for science and education policy.” Stephanie Nesbitt of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts called the conversations “truly fascinating.”

This is how science and policy can coexist in America: policymakers should feel comfortable reaching out to researchers with questions, and researchers should feel empowered to share their knowledge openly. Attendee Dr. Kamilah Legette, a researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill said, “These types of networking events are rare, but needed to help bridge research and policy effectively.”

Our country has many public challenges, but by combining academic research and outreach with state-level action, we can achieve evidence-based policy solutions.

Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA, is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at NC State University. Natalie Hengstebeck, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow with the Scholars Strategy Network. Deondra Rose, PhD, is an assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University.

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