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  • Writer's pictureScott Wolfe

Working Effectively with Practitioners & Policy Makers to Create & Use Research

I’ve heard some PhDs complaining about not having a seat at the policy table. I have some thoughts on this issue based on things I’ve learned over the years working with practitioners and policy makers.

I’m not saying I’m the expert on this. There are plenty of people with much more experience who also have written on this issue (in a more articulate manner!). But, for what it's worth, I thought I’d share my two cents (in no particular order):

1) Do important research that addresses issues that need immediate attention. If people don’t seem to understand the importance of your research it is either because (a) it isn’t important or (b) you’ve failed to communicate its importance. Either way, it's a “you problem.”

2) Be nice, humble, and open-minded. Police officers (or other practitioners) definitely know more about the job than you do. Learn from them. Listen to them.

3) Don’t be arrogant, conceited, snobbish, condescending, dismissive, etc. That stuff will get you ignored and not invited next time. Don’t lecture. Don’t be a know it all. Don’t act like you’re their savior. You aren’t.

4) Stick in your lane and say “I don’t know” if you don’t know. Practitioners look to PhDs for advice. They respect the degree and research experience as long as you don’t do #3.

5) Learn how to speak to normal people about research. Don't “dumb down." Many cops/practitioners are much smarter than most PhDs I know anyway. Rule: if you can’t explain it to a non-academic family member, you don’t know your stuff well enough to be speaking with practitioners.

6) Assume the best of intentions from your practitioner partner and they will reciprocate. This helps build trust.

7) Ask questions, be curious, be motivated. Find out what your practitioner partners want and need. Listen to them. Allow them a voice. Did I say that already? Must be important.

8) Don’t act like you are going to revolutionize the way they do business. That is naïve, pompous, and…see #3.

9) Don’t assume your academic discipline has all the answers and, by extension, you have all the answers.

10) Work collaboratively with practitioners. Don’t view yourself as an outside expert. Ask for feedback on research you do with them. Don’t release results to the public without first consulting them. Don’t treat practitioners simply as a source of data for your own agenda.

11) Don’t be concerned with being “in charge.” They’ll see right through that s&*#@ to your true intentions (a desire for power rather than providing meaningful help).

12) Learn from every experience. Learn what went well and what went poorly. I’ve failed at many of these things (and will again) but constantly look for self-improvement. I think self-awareness and reflection only open more seats at policy tables in the future.

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