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Research for the Real-World: New Book Highlights Realities and Lessons from Public Policy Research

insight A new book with chapters from multidisciplinary scientists at Abt offers timely research methods and applications to help decision making at federal, state, and local levels.

Solving complex, real-world policy problems requires relevant evidence that provides a clear course of action.

A new textbook offers an overview of methods and applications from public policy research that can illuminate decision making at the federal, state, and local levels.

The book, Applied Policy Research: Concepts and Cases, 2nd edition, was coauthored by Allan Porowski, J. Fred Springer, and Peter Haas. Porowski, a principal associate at Abt Global, is a leading expert in the design, execution, and analysis of randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental studies, and national cross-site evaluations in social and economic policy interventions.

The Realities of Policy Research

Porowski co-wrote the first section of the book, which provides an overview of the realities of policy research and methods for making policy research more creative, credible, and useful. The second section of the book includes 15 case studies that demonstrate how the content presented in the first section play out in real policy situations.

“Many students leave their public policy training programs with a sound understanding of research methods and statistical theories,” Porowski said, “but new and experienced researchers alike grapple with the application of research to practice. In this book, we aim to demonstrate the complexities of the real world and the opportunities for making our research more relevant and useful to decision makers in federal, state, local, and nonprofit agencies.”

Case Studies Illuminate Education, Climate Change Evaluations

Abt staff contributed to three case studies:



  • In Chapter 6, Porowski co-authored with Heather Clawson a summary of the Communities In Schools (CIS) National Evaluation, titled, “Using Research to Refine Quality Standards: The Evolution of Communities In Schools’ Total Quality System.” This chapter describes the research methods used in an eight-phase, comprehensive national evaluation of CIS, and how the evaluation’s implementation and impact studies were used to transform quality standards for the organization;
  • In Chapter 8, “The Use of Applied Policy Research to Inform and Reform Statewide Dropout Policies,” Abt’s Jill Norton explains how rapid-cycle research helped identify promising interventions and policies aimed at reducing high school dropout rates in Massachusetts. The chapter describes recommended approaches given to state policymakers, the strengths and limitations of each, and which policies were ultimately applied; and
  • In Chapter 14, “Climate Change Adaptation: An Assessment of Accomplishments at the Community Level,” Abt’s Jason Vogel and Heather Hosterman, along with Charles Herrick, formerly of Abt, explain their research of the varied actions local agencies and state organizations are taking to adapt to climate change. Vogel and colleagues describe how the research team assessed 17 diverse communities and their climate adaptation interventions. Based on the findings, researchers developed a model that other stakeholders and municipalities can use to reduce climate vulnerabilities in their own communities.

“Policy research is ultimately about knowledge building,” Porowski said, “and we have a better chance of instilling that knowledge into a policy debate when our research is relevant and rigorous. This book draws from research in a range of policy areas to help policy researchers realize the full potential of their work.”

The book, published by Routledge, is available online.

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