Francesca Lopez head shot in blue button down shirt, long dark brown hair and brown-framed glasses in front of green tree.
Published on: December 10, 2021

A partnership between Francesca Lopez, Waterbury Chair in Equity Pedagogy and professor of education in the Penn State College of Education, and Penn State’s Research-to-Policy Collaboration was recently awarded a $250,000 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant to connect researchers with hundreds of policymakers across the county.

Housed under the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative (EIC), a unit of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), the RPC is a model for bridging research and policy by emphasizing partnerships between research experts and legislative staff.

According to principal investigator Lopez, the researchers will use the RPC model to create a Rapid Response Network to provide much-needed evidence to address inequities in K-12 education.

“The current network involves 10 researchers who are participating in a 'Day on the Hill' convening funded by Spencer Foundation, along with several other intergenerational scholars engaged in education equity research," said Lopez.

The work is important because the Office of Management and Budget’s recent guidance implementing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 highlights meaningfully engaging a diverse array of stakeholders, according to Lopez. The guidance also discusses partnership research as a way of making federal agency evidence-building plans more inclusive and transparent, and to help advance equity. 

“When we are inclusive, we bring the marginalized to the table, and those policies constructed as a result are more likely to succeed because everyone is involved,” said Lopez. “Expanding the Rapid Response Network will be instrumental in this effort, because as equity issues arise, researchers will be mobilized to respond.”

The network will advise legislative briefings, policy briefs and requests to inform new laws and regulations. Additionally, the network will disseminate high-priority research to state and federal legislative offices via an electronic communications infrastructure. They also will create and maintain a website that will house briefs, fact sheets and updates on policy that are helpful to policymakers.

“The leadership of Lopez, along with Taylor Scott, director of research translation at EIC, and Royel Johnson, assistant professor of education and African American studies, exemplifies the type of interdisciplinary work being conducted at Penn State,” said Max Crowley, director of the RPC and EIC and associate professor of human development and family studies and public policy.

The project continues RPC’s previous work in connecting researchers with policymakers and was recently featured in the American Journal of Public Health. In that project, RPC researchers investigated strategies for increasing the reach of racial equity research to state and federal policymakers via digital communication.

Other examples of the RPC’s previous work include substance use treatment and prevention; leveraging modern technologies for health and human services; discussing regulatory challenges related to adoption and telehealth; strengthening best practices for victims of violence and exploitation; and issues that disproportionately affect rural communities and minorities.

“The RPC is a natural fit with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is committed to a more equitable world, leveraging technology, community-driven solutions and collaborations for a more inclusive, just and healthy future,” Crowley said.

Additional support for the work is being provided by SSRI, EIC, and Lopez’s endowed professorship.