NCFR Board Update: Results of NCFR Member Survey Addressing Research and Policy

NCFR Report

In early March 2016, NCFR Board President Bill Allen invited NCFR members to participate in the first of several brief surveys designed to help the NCFR Board better understand members' views of NCFR and the work it does. This first survey asked for opinions on the approaches to research and policy that NCFR takes or might take in the future. A total of 505 members responded to the survey. More than half of the respondents were university or college professors, more than 80 respondents were students, and more than 200 practitioners responded. Among the respondents, 32% had been an NCFR member for five years or less, 23% had been a member for more than 20 years, and the remaining fell in between.

What Did We Learn?

Survey respondents indicated their level of agreement with six statements (see Table 1). Examination of the means and standard deviations showed the strongest endorsement (with little variability) of items that pertained to disseminating research to the public and to policymakers (Item 3: 75% agreed or strongly agreed; Item 4: 84% agreed or strongly agreed). There also was strong agreement that NCFR should promote social justice for all families (Item 1; 76% agreed or strongly agreed). Given the broadness of the term social justice, members likely vary on its meaning. The Board will explore members' views of social justice and its associated activities in a second policy survey.

Respondents were relatively split on whether public statements should be limited to scientific findings (Item 5: 36% agreed or strongly agreed and 37% disagreed or strongly disagreed) and on whether NCFR should take positions on social issues (Item 6: 39% agreed or strongly agreed and 42% disagreed or strongly disagreed). Responses to Item 2, on limiting our work to publishing and reporting scientific data, showed 36% agreed or strongly agreed and 48% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Table 1



Most respondents (95%) fell into one of two broad groups. Group 1 strongly endorsed Items 1, 3, and 4 but was less supportive of Items 2, 5, and 6; Group 2 strongly endorsed Items 2–6 but was only moderately in favor of Item 1. Collectively, the close-ended responses show where there is consensus among NCFR members, particularly in the areas of dissemination of research to policymakers and the public. There also is considerable endorsement of the statement that NCFR should promote social justice for all families in its work. Although there was less agreement about limiting NCFR activities to publishing and facilitating scientific data about families and the nature of public statements made by NCFR, there clearly is room for dialogue about NCFR's policy-related activities.

Responses to the open-ended questions offered additional insights regarding members' views. There were 333 responses to a question on how NCFR can best use its influence to strengthen families, 183 responses regarding additional comments about NCFR and policy, and 96 "other" comments that respondents shared. The Board greatly appreciates the time that survey respondents took to think about NCFR's meaning for families and engagement with policy. To benefit from the open-ended input, a Board representative gave the responses an initial reading and placed into categories. Two qualitative researchers then read responses to check for fit with the assigned categories. A second pass was made using open coding techniques (focusing on the "thought unit"). A third pass was used to develop subthemes in each category (responses could belong to more than one subtheme). Responses to the open-ended questions yielded nine primary themes with a number of attending subthemes, as follows:

Disseminate Research

A large proportion of respondents advocated for NCFR's dissemination of research; many people noted how dissemination of research should be NCFR's niche.

  • Example subthemes: (a) research should be high quality, translational, cutting edge; (b) research should be used to inform and/or educate

Inform Policymakers

A large proportion of respondents also wrote about NCFR's informing of policymakers.

  • Example subthemes: (a) translate and interpret for policymakers; (b) collaborate with policymakers.

Research to Practice

A sizable number of people noted the importance of connecting research and practice.

  • Example subthemes: (a) get information out in a reader-friendly form; (b) researchers should collaborate with practitioners.

Speak Up and Stand Up for Families

Several NCFR members wrote about how NCFR as an organization is especially well equipped to speak up and stand up for families in all their forms and as concerns a variety of policies in which family experts are not as involved as they could be. Respondents offered examples of specific areas where NCFR could have such impact, such as paid family leave and child-care benefits.

  • Example subthemes: (a) educate others outside of NCFR; (b) science and advocacy are not mutually exclusive.

Safe Place for Dialogue

A few people discussed the value of NCFR providing a safe place for dialogue.

  • Example subthemes: (a) open discussion helps advance families; (b) seek out diversity in discussion and facilitate debates.

Bridging Philosophical Divide (Personal Values)

A few people also noted that NCFR should help bridge diversity of perspectives.

  • Example subthemes: (a) NCFR members should be having evidence-based dialogue; (b) NCFR's materials should be valued by diverse end users.

Make Position Statements and Make No Position Statements

Some respondents questioned the purpose of making position statements, yet a similar number of respondents warned of the consequences of not making them.

  • Example subthemes for making position statements: (a) position statements based on high-quality research; (b) position statements that are relevant public issues.
  • Example subthemes for not making position statements: (a) focus on the research; (b) advocacy goes beyond our expertise and the consequences of perceived advocacy could be negative.

Promote Social Justice

People mentioned different ways to facilitate social justice on a variety of topics and how it relates to NCFR's status as a premier family research and practice organization.

    • Example subthemes: (a) promote social justice on the basis of science and evidence; (b) promote social justice through NCFR activities (e.g., educating, publicizing research, preparing professionals to give voice to social justice).

The Board is continuing to review the open-ended input and will use it to guide further dialogue with members. The Board is committed to hearing a diversity of perspectives from NCFR members, with the ultimate goal of promoting conversations among NCFR members to facilitate shared meaning and member consensus on the work of NCFR.

Next Steps

  1. Given the strong interest in getting research into the hands of the public and policymakers, the Board will examine what NCFR already is doing and make sure those efforts are recognized. The NCFR Board will look at ways to get information about NCFR's policy-related activities more directly to members. We also will explore additional ways that NCFR can facilitate the dissemination of its members' Family Science research.
  2. The Board will continue to examine the meaning of social justice and how it can inform NCFR's actions, as well as ways to increase the connection between research with practice.
  3. A second member survey is being developed through careful review of member responses to the first survey and in consultation with the Family Policy Section and the Inclusion and Diversity Committee. Please take time to complete the second member survey, which will allow you to indicate the extent to which you agree with the findings from the first survey and will also offer follow-up questions on actions NCFR as an organization can take, and actions NCFR members can take to communicate about family policy issues. The second survey will launch during fall 2016.