GSE Professor Publishes Groundbreaking Study on the Use of Research

GSE Rose and Nicholas DeMarzo Chair in Education, Dr. Drew Gitomer, and Ph.D. student, Kevin Crouse, responding to a request from the William T. Grant Foundation, recently released a monograph titled, Studying the Use of Research Evidence: A Review of Methods. The William T. Grant Foundation supports research to improve the lives of people ages 5-25 in the United States. One of their major focus areas is improving the use of research evidence (URE), the subject of this report.

According to Gitomer, the monograph stems from a growing concern about the use of social science research and the extent to which it is used in policy and practice. “The research should not just live in a journal but rather be of use in how policymakers and practitioners make decisions. Going back 40 years, there has been work around answering the question, ‘How is research really used?’ Research use involves social processes among people inside and outside institutions in which policymakers and practitioners consider research evidence along with other information and use it for different purposes.  The quality of research is used depends on the nature of relationships of individuals within institutions and a host of contextual factors including the research evidence orientation of significant actors in a system (e.g., school superintendents).” W.T. Grant asked Gitomer & Crouse to study the research methods employed to study research use – through what research methods have scholars come to understand how and how frequently research is used, what factors influence URE, and what outcomes are associated with URE.

The monograph first provides a conceptual framework for organizing the methods used to study URE.  Then, the paper provides a brief introduction to specific methods along with a few exemplar studies that highlight how the specific method was used to study URE.  Specific methods include surveys, interviews, document analysis, observations, experiments and quasi-experiments, social network analysis and case studies.  Each methodological section overviews both the utility and limitations in using the methodology to explore questions about URE.  Exemplar studies come from the fields of education, health policy and child welfare.  The monograph closes with a set of recommendations to enhance methodological approaches to URE. 

When discussing the potential for impact on the field of research as a whole, Gitomer states, “There are two things that I hope for. One is that this study provides some basic guidance and framing for these studies. These projects are so robust and interesting and, in this beehive of activity, it is important to take a step back and look at the research from a bird’s eye view. It helps to introduce newcomers into the research process. Second is, we leave the report with recommendations for how to further the research, and my hope is that this area of research is picked up by others to continue this work.”

In conclusion, Gitomer states, “we hope that researchers can actually use this to think about their problems from a methodological perspective, and we provide references for further information in case they feel like they need additional resources.” For the entire report, visit the digital version of the report on the W.T. Grant Foundation’s website.