The Many Meanings of Research Utilization

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Citation: Weiss, Carol (1979) The Many Meanings of Research Utilization. Public administration review (RSS)

Tagged: Sociology (RSS) Social Science (RSS)


In the social sciences, researchers often grapple with concerns about whether or not their work actually affects policy decisions. The common mode of thought is that social science research is meant to address a concrete question. It's hard to explain, then, why such research often doesn't get implemented. Weiss argues that such a a model of research is not accurate; indeed, there are actually seven models to consider for how research is used by policy makers.

Research Models

The models for how social science research is actually used are defined below:

  1. Knowledge-driven model: Research advances public policy by the fact that it produces knowledge. However, unless the question that the research addresses is agreed upon to be important, it is unlikely that the research will have much of an effect on policymakers.
  2. Problem-solving model: The most common view is that research advances public policy by answering some concrete question. However, this is not always the case because public policy depends on a number of circumstances beyond research.
  3. Interactive model: Social scientists alone does not influence public policy. It is also dependent on aides, journalists, and interest groups.
  4. Political model: Research is used by policy makers as "ammunition" for partisan positions.
  5. Tactical model: Research is used to deflect demands for action from the public.
  6. Enlightenment model: Research spreads different perspectives and concepts to among policy makers, rather than directly influencing decisions.
  7. Intellectual enterprise of society: Research interacts in a back-and-forth loop with policy in response to the interests of society.

Notable References

Sherwin, Chalmers William, and Raymond S. Isenson. First interim report on Project Hindsight (summary). Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering Washington DC, 1966.

Caplan, Nathan. "The Use of Social Science Knowledge in Policy Decisions at the National Level: A Report to Respondents." (1975).

Theoretical and practical relevance:

These models for how social science research is "used" can inform researchers in how to make better contributions. Instead of just thinking about what policy questions they can answer, they should instead consider the wider possible implications of their work. Doing so will help social scientists make a larger impact on pressing issues.