Sometimes the biggest challenge for researchers comes after their big breakthrough. That challenge: simply being understood. Academic studies can be bewildering to the general public — which can mean important findings go unnoticed.
San Francisco State University’s new Michael D. Palm Center for Research Translation and Public Policy is doing something about that. Launched in March 2018, the research service organization is dedicated to training San Francisco State faculty and students in the art of translating their research for mass consumption — and the greater good.
“The idea is that faculty and students throughout campus are doing research that has very important implications for public policy,” SF State Professor of Political Science and the center’s director Aaron Belkin said. “But we’re not trained as academics to learn how to get our work out into the national policy conversation.”
Belkin leads the charge in the center’s pursuit of social justice through evidence-based research trainings. He will begin the work through a new senior seminar he is teaching this spring — “PLSI 606: The Politics of Social Justice.” Belkin looks to amplify what the new Palm Center does through the course, providing experiences in research translation and designing social justice action campaigns.
The center’s board of advisers, composed of a six-member interdisciplinary group of SF State faculty, is also planning a fall 2019 research colloquium where professors will discuss research that has potential to inform public policy, and best practices related to research translation. The center will also host a training symposium to teach faculty skills in research translation such as ways to communicate with media and how to get policy makers to consider their research.
“The more that professors keep the public policy conversation in mind, the better it is for students,” he said. “There are students pursuing career paths in public service or in social justice and public policy. We want to provide them the training in the beginning of their careers to do that.”
As director of the original Palm Center, a 20-year-old nonprofit focused solely on military research, Belkin crafted campaigns that spurred public dialogue and changed public policy. In 2011, for instance, the center helped repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited openly gay people from serving in the armed forces.
Though both are named after beloved educator and philanthropist Michael D. Palm, the two centers are completely separate entities. While Belkin is still involved with the original Palm Center, he is excited to direct its new incarnation at SF State which, unlike its predecessor, will address a broader range of public policy topics through the University’s research.
He hopes the new Palm Center can achieve the same kind of influence as the original.
“Democracy depends on scholars not only talking to each other but talking to the public and learning from the public,” he said. “Scholars need to share their work with the public in a way that can inform decision-making.”
— Ivan Natividad
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