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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 target(s).

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 ( EPSDT ) 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.

RELATED ARTICLES

Freedom of Information

The Importance of Legislative Staff

Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor

Tips for talking with reporters

Changing Public Opinion

Effective Communications

How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts

Connecticut's Budget Process

How to work with a lobbyist

Tips on Public Speaking

Regulations

Writing to Policymakers

LINKS

Connecticut Health Policy Project

Office of Legislative Research

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

HRSA http://www.hrsa.gov/

HHS http://www.hhs.gov/

US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (formerly HCFA)

Families USA

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

Understanding 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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