Making Social Sciences More Relevant to Policy

Written by: Logan Williams

Primary Source:

Beth McMurtrie at The Chronicle of Higher Education has written an article entitled “Social Scientists Seek New Ways to Influence Public Policy.” The following quote from McMurtie’s article describes something that I have never heard of before, the International Summer Policy Institute at American University.

“I’m trained to pitch a general argument on rape in wartime,” says Ms. Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “But I would be asked very specific questions on what happened last month in the DRC, and how does my research speak to that? I find that a very difficult divide to bridge.”

For guidance she turned to the International Policy Summer Institute, at American University. The institute is one of a growing number of projects designed to connect academics to policy makers and the public.

– See more at:

So of course I googled this summer policy institute at American University. It turns out that it is for professors and postdocs in international affairs who want to learn how to write policy-relevant academic scholarship, including some information on how to more effectively reach target audiences. I think that this is a great resource. Especially in the current era of sequestration, where congress can rationalize shutting down scientific funding for a particular unit of science in a federal research funding agency (i.e. political science in the National Science Foundation).

A similar resource that was not mentioned by McMurtrie, is the To Think To Write To Publish project. It focuses on developing communication skills among scientists, science journalists, and social scientists who can make contributions to science and technology policy. One of the principal investigators is Lee Gutkind, the founder of the Creative Nonfiction Magazine. The second is David Guston, a prominent science and technology policy scholar and a past editor of Science and Public Policy.

Another network of scholars that McMurtrie mentions in The Chronicle is the Scholars Strategy Network. This is directed by prominent sociologist, Theda Skocpol. Unlike the first two, it does not appear to provide training, however its staff actively pursues public venues for the affiliated scholars to share their research briefs.

I welcome further information about opportunities for training in how to make the social sciences more relevant to policy.

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Logan Williams
Logan primarily uses this blog to: reflect on policy and professionalization issues in STS (e.g. research funding, discipline formation, skill building, job-hunting, policy applications of STS theory) and to disseminate her own scholarship.