Bills with research language more likely to advance through legislative process, researchers find: Study suggests benefits of using research in policymaking

Science can play a key role in whether a bill will ultimately reach its intended outcome, according to a new study from researchers at Penn State. The team found that the inclusion of scientific research language within bills, specifically language referring to the type of study or how a study was conducted, predicted bills’ progression out of committee and enactment.

According to the study, which published in the journal Prevention Science, research-type keywords (e.g., “clinical trial,” “longitudinal study”) were associated with a 65% greater likelihood of being passed out of committee, whereas methods keywords (e.g., “collect data,” “conduct studies”) were associated with a 32% greater likelihood of becoming enacted than bills without research evidence language.

The study not only illustrates the power of “evidence-based policy making,” said Taylor Scott, assistant research professor and co-director, Research-to-Policy Collaboration at Penn State, but also reveals opportunities for strengthening legislators’ use of prevention science, a field focused on evidence-based interventions that benefit communities.

The team analyzed more than 20 years of U.S. Federal-level legislation related to youth in the justice system. An in-depth review of legislation revealed instances of research being used to define problems, reinforce effective practices, generate knowledge through research and evaluation, and disseminate findings.

The focus on juvenile justice is the third study of its kind for the Penn State researchers. Previous papers on human trafficking and substance use prevention also found that research language played a key role. This series of studies has served two purposes, said Scott.

“Both policymakers and research translators seek legislative frameworks that can leverage research evidence for effective policymaking,” she said, “and study findings have refined methods for future studies to quantify research use, which allows us to better evaluate the impacts of research translation efforts.”

The team observed the need to bring the research and policy communities closer together, earlier in the legislative process, particularly around areas where data can provide the most insight.

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