How foundation-funded 'advocacy research' makes its way into policy proposals

November 12, 2014

“Despite the centrality of high-profile funders in the production of advocacy research, scholars have not closely examined their influence,” write Megan Tompkins-Stange and Sarah Reckhow (MSU) in the proposal for their research project, “Financing the Policy Discourse: How Advocacy Research Funded by Private Foundations Shapes the Debate on Teacher Quality.”

Tompkins-Stange and Reckhow seek to understand two key aspects of advocacy research funded by private foundations: “How much and through what channels does foundation-funded advocacy research influence policymaker discourse on teacher quality? How does foundation-funded advocacy research get incorporated into policy proposals?”

The William T. Grant Foundation also finds these questions compelling. On November 5, the foundation awarded Tompkins-Stange and Reckhow’s project a $275,000 research grant. To root their study, Tompkins-Stange and Reckhow have developed two main hypotheses: “Advocacy research is frequently mentioned by policymakers as a source of evidence to support their beliefs concerning teacher quality,” and “…an increasing prevalence and use of advocacy research will contribute to a more polarized discourse network on the issue of teacher quality.”

Over the next two years, Tompkins-Stange and Reckhow will use content analysis, discourse network analysis, and elite interviews with key education policy actors to illuminate the links between philanthropists, grantees, advocacy research, and policymakers.

Megan Tompkins-Stange has taught at the Ford School since 2011. Her research and teaching interests center on the influence of private sector and philanthropic actors within the nonprofit sector, particularly the focus on the role of private philanthropic foundations in the field of public education.