(Updated) Engaging Policymakers

Research and Training Center on Independent Living logo

University of Kansas (KU)
Research and Training Center on Independent Living (RTC/IL)
Submitted by Martha Hodgesmith and Val Renault


Encouraging direct information exchanges and collaborative partnerships between researchers and policymakers can be a key component of an effective KT strategy aimed at facilitating the uptake of relevant research findings in disability-related policy.


The Research and Training Center on Independent Living (RTC/IL) is based at the University of Kansas (KU) and comprises a team committed to research aimed at enhancing independent living (IL) options for people with disabilities. The research-based information produced by RTC/IL can be used in various ways to raise awareness and promote positive change in behavior and public policy. RTC/IL staff provide training in the field, disseminate findings through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications, share new information with policymakers for decision making, and create useful products for consumers and advocacy groups.

KT Activity

RTC/IL staff conducted a unique “Bridging Meeting” experience with a knowledge translation (KT) goal of influencing policies that affect IL. The meeting took place during the second project year with the aim of involving stakeholders early in the research process rather than waiting to disseminate findings at the conclusion of project activities. Staff applied a KT model—the “Best Brains Exchange” used by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research—and a rapid delivery format adapted from KU research-sharing sessions. This approach involves both researchers and policymakers in highly focused exchanges designed to target research that may affect public policy (from the researcher’s perspective) and that, simultaneously, is sensitive to political forces supporting the incorporation of research evidence into public policy (from the policymaker’s perspective).

The Bridging Meeting was hosted by RTC/IL researchers. Participants included national policymakers, representatives of national IL organizations, IL researchers, and members of the Center's Scientific and Consumer Advisory Panel. The RTC/IL retained Ian Graham, Ph.D., an internationally known KT expert and champion, to facilitate the meeting. Dr. Graham led the Best Brains Exchange to address the following outcomes: (1) provide policymakers with an overview of current evidence on IL as it affects policy, including immediate advice from researchers relative to policymakers’ questions and concerns; and (2) provide researchers with policymakers’ perspectives on their work and its implications for policy development or revision. Presentations and conversations among researchers and policymakers were kept focused and concise to maximize interaction.


The discussion between policymakers and researchers during the Bridging Meeting is helping the RTC/IL tailor the products of its research findings to be useful for policymakers with an interest in developing and implementing policies designed to maximize the IL experience of people with disabilities as well as older adults (reflecting the mission of the Administration on Community Living, which was represented at the meeting). Currently, RTC/IL is preparing online informational products and position papers based on the issues that policymakers are poised to address in upcoming legislative sessions.

The outcomes of the Bridging Meeting have served as a foundation for subsequent KT activities conducted by the Center. Our KT work culminated in a Community Living Summit held in September 2016. Information about the Summit and the materials we shared are available at http://rtcil.org/clsummit.

Lessons Learned

  1. Direct exchanges between researchers and policymakers break down communication barriers.
  2. Measuring increased awareness is best done in measuring changes in behavior such as increased communication.
  3. Partnering with other available university resources, such as the schools of Journalism and Business, can be useful in planning and implementing KT strategies.

Contact Information

Research and Training Center on Independent Living 
University of Kansas
1000 Sunnyside Avenue, Room 4089
Lawrence, Kansas 66045 -7555
785 864-4095
785 864-5063 (fax)