Session Summary: Research Influence on Welfare Policy
Keunwon Song is a MPP student at George Mason University.
Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution
Ryan Martin, Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee
Lawrence Mead, New York University
Angela Rachidi, New York City Welfare Department
The panel principally addressed three questions. The first question they tackled was "What research on welfare outside of government has been useful and how?" Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institution pointed to works done by Mary Jo Bane, a Harvard professor, and Peter Edelman, a lawyer, that was hugely influential but also a great example of collaborative achievements between academicians and practitioners. Ryan Martin from the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee stated that research was instrumental in providing an explanation for specific questions, bolstering evidence for a policy and testing for viability of policies in the real world. Angela Rachidi from the New York City Welfare Department spoke similarly that research broadened thinking around welfare policy; justified approaches already in place; and directed policy decision-making.
The second question that they discussed was "What made research accessible to the government?" Ron Haskins stated that APPAM's published book on welfare reform in 2009 had direct impact on the Congress. Ryan Martin added three factors:1). Timing and the political climate. 2). Practice. Many states’and counties’ experiment was working and the Congress was persuaded. 3). Measured impacts. Exciting policy ideas do not appear in federal policy randomly but rather tend to “bubble up”after numerous legislative cycles. Angela Rachidi argued that the strength of design is the single most important factor. In other words, practitioners are most interested in the viability of implementation but researcher’s works are seldom holistic enough for implementation. She also spoke about the importance of building a network of professional relationships since policymakers’ first “Go-to” individuals are those of personal acquaintance that they know they can trust and rely on. As one might expect, reputation of researchersand the organization (e.g.Mathematicas and MDRC) tend to be a leg up. And, people ought not to overlook the fact that a lot of research has, in fact, been conceived and funded by governments in the past.
The last question they addressed was “Suggestions on how to make research more accessible.”Ron Haskins stated that there are no natural processes to this and hence emphasized the need to develop lasting relationships(e.g. Media,Congressional research staff,and Congressional budget office). Ryan Martin distinguished access from impact. While access is easy, impact is much harder because research has to be relevant, timely, and actionable. Researchers often set goal of raising awareness but what practitioners really need is an argument.The good news, though, is that there is a drive for more evidence on the Hill. Angela Rachidi spoke about value generation. Congressmen have high in-house research capabilities. Researchers need to understand the political realities and be willing to contribute in ways and areas where the in-house research staff either falls short or is simply limited. Research needs to be robust enough for the Congress to take the risk.
Lawrence Mead gave concluding remarks highlighting the significance of local contexts in research. He argued that the field is the ideal place where practice meets research.