Research - Finding and Using Data
It is critical to remember that you are not trying to
convince yourself -- you are already a true believer. You need
to move policymakers who have different agendas, other
distractions, different ways of learning, and much less time to
devote to your issue than you have. A fact that may be extremely
meaningful to one person may be irrelevant to another. You are
looking for the fact/story/whatever that will move your
I'd rather be approximately right than exactly wrong.
-- John Maynard Keynes
- Based on our survey,
Connecticut policymakers trust information from legislative staff
and state agencies the most. Start there searching for information.
Even if the staff quote another source, use the more trusted
citation in your work.
- Especially search for "official" goals or benchmarks.
For example, Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (
) rates have increased
for Connecticut children over the last 10 years, but they are not
even close to the state's goal or other states' rates http://www.cthealthpolicy.org/pubs/wellchild.htm.
- Search federal sources next, such as the Census, CDC and CMS
(formerly HCFA). Next use journals, academic institutions and
trusted non-profit sources, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation and
Health Affairs. Advocacy organizations, provider and professional
organizations are moderately trusted. Media and industry
organizations are least trusted.
- Use your own information - both statistics from your program and
stories from your experience. This is very powerful.
- Remember to cite your source. "Consider the source" is
often repeated at the Capitol. Information from a disinterested
party is more persuasive. Nonpartisan organizations that take great
pains to remain neutral carry more weight.
- Be creative in finding sources of information. Wider searches of
the state website or a general search engine may find your
information in a place you never would have thought to look.
- Supporting information from an unlikely source can be very
persuasive. For example, May 23, 2000 the Wall Street Journal (not a
consumer oriented publication) ran a front-page article
describing how Merrill Lynch lowered their health care costs by
expanding benefits for employees.
- DO NOT SKEW INFORMATION - Do not take quotes out of context. Do
not use "fuzzy math" to make a point. Eventually you will
be found out. You can never get your reputation back.
- Be careful in using small numbers or data from very small
populations. That is not a reason to exclude the data, just frame it
clearly. For example, "While his patient list is not long, a
local pediatrician estimates that the number of uninsured patients
in his practice increased 25% last year."
- Be certain that definitions are the same when making comparisons
For example, one survey may label a respondent as uninsured for
answering no to "Do you have health insurance now?" while
another survey may frame their question, "Have you been without
health coverage in the last year?" Do not assume that because
two numbers are from the same source, that they are comparable.
- Make reasonable adjustments. For example a dollar of health care
in 1950 would cost far more now - spending would increase in a
program that was just keeping services level. Also, adjust for
population. Ten infant deaths in one year would be far different in
a small town than in a big city.
- Pay attention to information that does not support your position.
It is critical to know what your opponents are going to say and to
be ready to respond.
- Contact friends and follow up on their recommendations. People
often know where to find things that are not available on the web or
not easily accessible. Or they may know someone else who knows.
- Check your numbers three times. Have someone else check your work.
- Don't overanalyze, if it will delay the work. Too many great
reports - beautifully formatted, perfect research - are released too
late to make a difference.
Freedom of Information
The Importance of Legislative
Writing Op-Eds and Letters to
Tips for talking with reporters
Changing Public Opinion
How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts
Connecticut's Budget Process
How to work with a lobbyist
Tips on Public Speaking
Connecticut Health Policy Project
Office of Legislative
State of Connecticut Web Site search
US Census Bureau
Connecticut Department of Public Health
Connecticut Office of Health Care Access
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov
Medline - journal search http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi
National Center for Health Statistics http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/
Commonwealth Fund www.cmwf.org
US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (formerly HCFA)
Kaiser Family Foundation http://www.kff.org
State Health Facts Online - from Kaiser Family Foundation http://www.statehealthfacts.kff.org
National Association of State Budget Officers http://www.nasbo.org
Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy http://www.ahrq.gov
Research: Ten Tips for Advocates and Policymakers (PDF format,
101KB) from the National Association of Child Advocates
For researching other states' policies: Stateline.org
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