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Seeking the big picture

By July 2, 2020September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Caitlin Bakker, Del Reed, Jenny McBurney, Katherine Chew

Caitlin Bakker, Del Reed, Jenny McBurney, Katherine Chew

For a health researcher with the goal of changing people’s health behavior, publication may be just the start. Their work reaches people through the news media and even influences policy — but how do they capture that impact, to share it with funders or others?

One way is to request a report from the Policy and News Media Impact Service of the Health Sciences Library.

“They can really put forward how they are making meaningful contributions,” says Caitlin Bakker, Research Services Librarian who leads the service, which serves health sciences-related researchers.

She has found U of M researchers have a national, even international reach. “Researchers at the U of M have their work incorporated in amendments to laws in certain states. We see their research being cited in testimony for senate committee meetings,” Bakker says, adding that researchers have even influenced policies recommended by the World Health Organization.

A center’s focus

The School of Public Health was working on an NIH grant resubmission for a Nutrition and Obesity Research Center says Tessa Lasswell, a study coordinator in the School’s Division of Epidemiology and Community Health. The reviewers suggested, she says, focusing on specifics about 14 center members from the Medical School, Public Health, Nursing, and Sociology, such as “who these faculty are and areas they have worked in; what’s their involvement with the community?”

Yet checking into the impact of 14 faculty researchers at one time was daunting, and time was short. Following the suggestion of Public Health faculty member Lisa Harnack, one of the center’s core researchers, Lasswell filled out the request form for the Policy and News Media Impact Service, with a two-week turnaround time.

Lasswell asked for a focus on policy impact and the team, which includes Bakker, Melissa Aho, Katherine Chew, Jenny McBurney, and Del Reed, got to work. The group divvies up the resources to search and also have agreed on best practices to follow, Bakker says. “It’s a little bit of a hunt, a little bit of problem-solving,” she says. “We [librarians] tend to be curious people.”

For some of this work, says reference librarian Reed, there are no shortcuts. One person in the group had 122 articles in PubMed; Reed researched their policy impact using Google and found five policy documents. “It takes a certain amount of patience,” he says. Fortunately, the team is a good one and Bakker is an exemplary leader, says Reed: “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.” Faculty pursuing promotion and tenure also have used the service.

Reporting back

In the end, Bakker and team presented Lasswell with a two-layered report: A summary that consolidated all the researchers’ policy impacts, along with impact reports for each individual.

“I was just amazed at the breadth and the depth that our researchers have gone into and how widespread they have published,” Lasswell says. “It was neat to see how the researchers were all related. Their work was all pointing to the same public health mission but [from their] different corners.” The faculty included in the report, she says, commonly write grants for the division, so their individual reports likely have value in the future as well.

The impact reports, Bakker says, are “tools for self-advocacy” for faculty who wish to show the big picture of their research reach. After her experience, Lasswell highly recommends them.


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