Using Communication: Impacting Policy Decisions

This page was developed as a synthesis of lessons learned by participants during an NSEC working meeting and is part of an extended set of toolkits for STEM Education Centers.

Main Themes
  • Knowledge broker: Center as a knowledge hub/ broker among key constituencies. A Center gains agency and standing from understanding the value of information, implementing lessons learned in practice, and use of that knowledge to the other stakeholders. To complete these goals, a Center needs to know how to effectively communicate and translate the value of information. Read on>>
  • People broker: A Center must strategically gather the appropriate stakeholders and facilitate connections among individuals over time. It can then mediate among the array of stakeholders with a trusted, knowledgeable, and accessible voice. These interactions can build towards a sustained network and policies by considering the development all current and future leaders. Read on>>

If the ultimate goal is the recruitment, increased retention, and the success of students, then we need to strengthen the student experience which will increase all student retention and result in students better prepared for life as a responsible citizen. There are three major arenas where STEM Centers may influence policy. The possible policy arenas could be Internal (within institutes and/or departments, External (regional, state, and/or national discussions), or within Network (NSEC).

STEM Centers as knowledge hubs among key constituents

A Center gains agency and standing from understanding and demonstrating how the information is of value, and used for other stakeholders. Data and information collected by Centers must be communicated to a broad audience and highlight the value of information and the work being done. Creating resources that are based on research will give more immediate significance to a Center's message. Information can come in the form of personal stories, formative, and summative feedback. The data and personal stories collected through STEM initiatives must be communicated in a broad spectrum, which means that the information is accessible by stakeholders with different, but overlapping interests and priorities. Furthermore, the resources produced from the research must show that they fulfill their intended purpose and also serve as example work for potential partners and stakeholders.

The content and focus of the policy matters, but if the communication of the material is not clear or available, then it will be difficult to build momentum for change or demonstrate a Center's ability to make change. Developing rubric/guidelines to policies that are well-articulated and readily available can help put all stakeholders are on the same page regarding policies. This research will then be used to inform policies and resources followed by another round of feedback based on the installed policies.

Policies will gain the best traction through the use of research and data. Research can be used to inform and drive policy stances and Centers can create/develop research informed resources to aid in these changes. Furthermore, accreditation outcomes require data, which could also be used for policy decisions. Data can be in the form of teaching practices, curricular analysis, and student success (e.g., graduation rate, satisfaction, movement between disciplines). Partnering with communities like SOTL and DBER will pool resources and information to address policy issues.

Example Ideas
  • NAS reports: Indicators Report, DBER report
  • Gallup/Purdue studies: High Impact practices and use, NILOA, AAC&U.
  • COPUS/GORP VIP - observation protocols
  • Better student rating systems
  • Rubrics
  • Align work with broader impacts programs
  • Academy for faculty to think about developing own professional development

Strategically networking the appropriate stakeholders, groups, and individuals over time

Change involves investment in individuals and individual interactions that develop trust and confidence. This community of stakeholders can be created and mediated by the STEM Center because the Center has demonstrated its status as reliable, knowledgeable, and an accessible hub of information that considers the development of all current and future leaders. To that end, STEM Centers can build bridges between groups (e.g., faculty, administration, policy makers, community college – university groups) that evolves into a shared ownership in changing STEM education. The shared ownership and collaboration within the institution can result in research-informed approaches that are locally specified. Each stakeholder and group will come to the table with their specific needs and priorities that are specific to the institution. A STEM Center will need to understand the needs and priorities of stakeholders and facilitate a discussion about where their goals overlap.

Policy decisions are made in an effort to identify and reduce barriers to success, specifically structural barriers. The first step in making a policy decision is to identify concrete examples of why a current policy encourages bad practices or hinders the ultimate goal of student success. A center may be able to document/collect experiences of barriers beyond informal stories and complaints. A listening tour could be implemented and/or evaluation process created to funnel information into one place for synthesis and analysis. A Center to could take the role of creating a collaborative effort to build bridges among groups (e.g., faculty, administration, policy makers, community college - university groups). The scale of data can range from small (individuals or single course) to large "big data" (historical data, student body evaluation, graduating class, etc.) collected by the institute. For more on Evaluation and Assessment

Policy change involves investment from individuals, interactions among individuals, built trust, and confidence in the work being done. Centers are in a position to act as central players in organizing and facilitating that discussion about identified barriers.

Example Policy topic: Addressing implicit bias and in particular within STEM education. An institution may want to try and raise awareness of implicit bias and addressing it with new policies such as during the hiring process. Institutions may implement checks and balances for awarding faculty line for potential hire and focus on generating a deep broad pool of candidates. While there is a focus on tenure line jobs, implicit bias can readily appear during the hiring of graduate students, instructors, adjunct faculty, and staff.

For a given policy, consider about what scale is achievable rather than trying to complete it all the first time around. Each scale and unit will have its own concerns, which also means that having a common language framing that is accessible to all interested parties. Knowing the concerns of each person will help you identify how best to navigate a situation and utilize those with influence to support your message. For example, build relationships with your Deans and having them help chip away at policies that pose hurdles. Furthermore, you may want to meet with Deans to become more knowledgeable about all policies or "unofficial" policies so you can align objectives. You can also communicate with the Provost to gain their support and signal to the faculty and other groups affected by a policy change. The alignment of policies will help promote a consistent voice and can extend from an alignment of internal goals to aligning with external policies. For example, K-12 education has adopted common core and a Center can help them with preparing students for the transition to college.

Examples from NSEC community materials
  • Tie EBIPs to retention outcomes such as institutional priorities around valued priorities and a Nesse survey of high impact practices are distributed to all students.
  • Data Analytics: Tools 4 Evidence Based Action to connect the EBIP to reduced DFW and increased retention.
  • Align searches with the the campus training on implicit bias, and diversity/equity office
The University of South Florida created a working group for community colleges (STEER).

The Departmental Action Team Project at the University of Colorado - Boulder has useful empower units.

Context matters

  • Creating communities: Penn State's Teaching and Learning Summit to create a community
  • Communicate to provost which subsequently signals faculty.
  • Departmental level work: P&T starts at departmental level and become key units of work.
  • Become a strong block of actors with shared governance (faculty have power).

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