Millions of dollars are spent every year on research that has implications for policy and practice, yet, if research moves from academic settings into practice, it usually takes over a decade for research-inspired changes to be seen. Efforts have been made to improve the “supply side” of research, but little is known about the dynamics of the “demand side” – how do practitioners use research in their day-to-day work? While communities of practice have been studied in single sectors (notably education and medicine), little is known about how communities of practice that cross service sectors utilize research. One such cross-sector community of practice is the set of agencies and organizations that serve victims and perpetrators of domestic violence (DV). The purpose of this study was to investigate how research was used within criminal justice and community organizations serving domestic violence victims and perpetrators.
We conducted 35 key informant interviews with members of the police, domestic violence advocacy agencies, prosecutors, judges, public defenders and state-based professional organization in one state. The interviews focused on how research was obtained, legitimized and used by members of the organization and within the larger community. Content analysis was used to analyze transcripts and create inductive (from the data) and deductive (from prior research) coding categorizations. We intensively read all transcripts, analyzed networks of research transfer, coded transcripts for key concepts, and compared these across law enforcement, criminal justice and DV advocacy sectors.
In each sector, different kinds of research were viewed as important enough to be integrated into practice. For instance, law enforcement was most likely to recognize and use research that was directly related to assessing a criminal encounter, whereas criminal justice and DV groups were more likely to use research that situated DV in a larger environment of risk. Research that was the most useable by agencies was that which was disseminated by state or national organizations through networks of professional conferences and communication structures, rather than directly via academic-based researchers. The closest network ties were between DV advocacy groups and prosecutors with prosecutors noting their reliance on DV advocates to keep them abreast of emerging research trends. DV organizations were key hubs in their communities for the dissemination of new research that had been vetted by state or national DV groups.
Conclusions and Implications
These findings show the importance of understanding how networks of professionals come in contact with, legitimize and use research in their day-to-day practice. DV represents the type of problem that spans several different service sectors, so understanding how research circulates in these networks can help advance theories on research dissemination and utilization. In the specific case of DV, the most effective method for researchers to move their findings into practice was to cultivate relationships with local knowledge gatekeepers and validators such as state professional organizations. Research dissemination and implementation strategies need to incorporate understanding of natural networks that determine the use of research.