Making a Case for Policy Implications in Research: A Reflexive Contemplation and Call to Action

Morgan Cooley, Family Policy Section Secretary/Treasurer
Content Area
Family Law and Public Policy

Very few people will argue against the importance of policy in daily life, yet there are still many scholars, both novice and experienced, who do not include policy implications in crafting the research and discussion sections of their research articles. It is commonly accepted that implications are provided in research studies with the intention of interpreting the meaning and results of your research. When taking a systems lens, there are very few research topics that would not have a direct or indirect relationship to policy. Policy implications add a holistic lens to the meaning and interpretation of your research beyond the traditional discussion of how your results can be enhanced by other research and how your results can be applied to practice. Implications for policy are most often meso- and macro-level considerations and can include programmatic, community-oriented, state-level, or federal-level reflections of how your research can influence existing systems, how existing systems or societal contexts influence your research or the application of your research, and potential options for how to develop research-informed programs and policies.

If you feel that policy is an area in which you do not have much knowledge or experience, you have some options for strengthening your competence.

First, and in no particular order of importance, combining forces with a co-author or mentor who has some experience with or knowledge of policy can help you to develop a specific understanding of where to begin, especially as it relates to your area of study. As a new professional who has been teaching family and social policy courses for many years and a researcher with an interest in policy, I have found that my students and mentees often have more policy knowledge than they realize. Gaining policy knowledge is more a manner of learning about the formal systems and governing structures that are in place, identifying pre-existing policies and programs related to their area of research, exploring how macro-level policies influence the individuals and families they research, and using the appropriate language targeted to the various audiences who would be interested in the results.

Second, policy implications should be included as an important aspect of conceptualizing your research plan and developing your scholarly article. Implications are not an afterthought but an intentional part of your purpose and research design. Consider the audience for your research and the impact you want your research to have. Are you writing articles that can be easily picked up and digested by readers who make important policy or program-level decisions?

Third, explore policy research related to your area of interest. You will often need to digest journals you may never have read or search for materials such as policy briefs, program or policy reports written by government or contracted organizations, or even go straight to government websites. Take note of the language and think critically about how the information presented to you fits the reality or context of your research. Some of you may identify new research studies, find articles that need to be critiqued or disputed, or find ways to make your research more impactful. And finally, you may identify new research partners or stakeholders for promoting or enhancing your research.

As family scholars who are committed to systems thinking and viewing research through a systemic lens, leaving out policy implications would be like eliminating a subsystem from a family or surveying only one parent about a family-oriented issue. Most of us pursue research as much more than a personal accolade, viewing it as a way to add to the collective and research-informed discourse, as well as a means of creating positive change in our world. Policy may be the only practical way of making systemic or large-level change. As the context of our research changes—from the micro (e.g., participants and families) to the macro (i.e., political and ideological)—it is time to take responsibility and action for creating digestible and impactful research.