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Linda Silka


SPSSI: Ahead of Its Time and Still Moving Forward  

Linda Silka, Senior Fellow, Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions; Professor Emerita, School of Economics  

Many scientists are realizing that while it is important to do cutting-edge research, this alone is not enough to ensure that the research gets used. Too often researchers are finding that research has little impact on policy and practice. There is even a phrase widely used now to describe this situation: we have a loading dock problem. We put enormous effort into doing good research with the assumption that doing so will change policy and practices but, in point of fact, often no one is waiting to use it. Instead, the findings linger on the “loading dock” with little uptake occurring. The research doesn’t make the difference it could. 

SPSSI members have long recognized how important it is to ensure that the research is useful and can be used. More effort is devoted to this in SPSSI than in many other organizations. And now that other groups are realizing that they need to get better at this, SPSSI can offer some hard-earned lessons—lessons we are still adding to—to others. As our website says: SPSSI affords social and behavioral scientists opportunities to?apply their knowledge and insights to the critical problems of today's world. Whether it is (now classic) research informing Brown vs Board of Education or many other bodies of research carried out by SPSSI members, we have much to share with our colleagues. How do we do this? And, how do we get even better at doing this so that what we have learned might be helpful to others?  

In the SPSSI Policy Committee and other parts of SPSSI, we are giving considerable attention to these questions. And we are testing out various strategies. For example, at one of the last in person SPSSI conferences, a single day workshop was organized by the Policy Committee focused on how to reach policy makers and practitioners with one’s research by using the media more effectively. For many of us this experience was instructive but also prompted many more questions about the nature of the ‘research-to-impact’ barriers. 

And we have begun to look at what we can learn from other research organizations at the same time they are learning from us. This includes, for example, looking at the rapidly growing cross-disciplinary efforts intended to lead to research having greater policy impacts and actions because it brings disciplines together rather than approaching the same problem in isolation. This, in turn, has led to studies of the benefits of boundary spanners: people who bridge the divides between different disciplines and between researchers and practitioners. A growing emphasis on boundary spanning is paying off in approaches that have begun to surmount the ‘research to impact’ barriers. 

The promise of greater impact is growing. It would be great is to hear from all of you about what you are doing to increase the likelihood that research will have impacts and lead to action. How are you going about doing this? Things aren’t over when you publish your research for academic audiences. How would you like to change your institution so value is given to making a difference as well as publishing? If you are a student, what would you like to see in the way of training in this arena? If you are faculty member, what are you doing in your classes? How can we draw on the SPSSI committees and talented staff of SPSSI not only to increase impact but to find effective ways to share our hard lessons learned?  

I look forward to hearing from all of you so that we can work on these issues together: 

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