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Policy Potpourri
November 22, 2008 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Policy Archive compiles research and recommendations from think tanks, universities, government agencies and foundations into one browseable/searchable site. Designed to give the non-wonk layperson free, centralized access to subject-specific information on public policy in the USA, Policy Archive offers quick links to topics like banking & finance, education, labor, and military. Or just browse by who wrote, published, or funded a given bit of research. 16,000+ documents and growing.
posted by Rykey (12 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Neat! Thanks!
posted by aheckler at 7:49 AM on November 22, 2008


Ooooh! The culture and religion section is going to occupy me for awhile. And I got 118 hits when I searched for Cyprus! Thanks for this!
posted by Mouse Army at 8:24 AM on November 22, 2008


Whoa,

How did I not know about this site before ?!

From their "about us" page
"American philanthropic foundations spend over $1.5 billion a year on research. Spread out across the nation among diverse libraries, institutions, databases, and websites, this valuable research can be difficult or impossible to identify and obtain once it has been published. Research organizations have no central place to distribute or archive their content, and search engines cannot easily locate much policy research. Research is not optimized to appear at the top of search engine results. Existing policy websites are focused on single issues or available only upon payment of substantial fees."



Given that fact that think-tanks are competing with each other for people's attention spans, they fail to put a priority on distributing those ideas to people outside of the beltway on capitol hill and/or the academia. Creating easy access and distribution to their work for those on the blogosphere, the internet, places like metafilter would be a good return on their investments, since these places are becoming are a bigger place where these ideas are discussed and as a source for public opinion on their work.

kudos for the post, rykey.
posted by fizzix at 8:31 AM on November 22, 2008


Hmm. I want to love this--I think the idea is very cool--but it looks like they have a ways to go before becoming actually useful. I think they might need to think through a little more what the *point* of something like this is--what is the problem they're solving here? I know it's sexy and exciting to make everything Web 2.0, but this really seems to be a solution searching for a problem. The "about us" page states that research organizations have no central place to distribute or archive their content, and search engines cannot easily locate much policy research, which just seems.... incorrect. The idea seems more suited to a time before the internet existed, where the physical location of a manuscript mattered. Today, if policy research is scattered across thousands of university and think tank websites--well, how is that a problem, exactly? Is it that Google doesn't index that research (I doubt this is the case), or is it that people aren't very skilled at searching for it? Is it that there's a lot of un-scientific crap out there, and someone needs to separate the wheat from the chaff? (This latter issue will only be solved if Policy Archive takes a role in selecting what research meets some standard, and only including those papers; there isn't any indication that they're doing that sort of thing. This is historically what journals have done, and it's exactly why a lot of research is hidden behind paywalls, another thing they point out as a problem.)

In my opinion, something like this would be *most* useful if it positioned itself to be a place where interested policymakers and citizens can browse through the range of policy ideas across the political spectrum for addressing specific public problems. I think that sort of resource is really needed--it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking there's the same one or two ways to address a problem--and for policymakers, the solutions are often the ones that interest groups bring you, which introduces a bit of bias into the whole process. I think it's too rare that policymakers (well, actually, their staff) step back and try to scan the field to see if there are new ideas about how to address things, mostly because it's really hard to keep up with all the new research being done. This website isn't really set up to do that yet, though: they don't differentiate at all between straight descriptive research ("how things are"), versus evaluations of programs ("how has this been working?"), versus new policy proposals. This is exactly the same place that typical search engines fail, as well--it takes some time to sort through results to figure out what type of paper you're looking at. That could be a real value-added here, splitting up their research so someone who wanted to look for just new policy proposals didn't have to read through 10 papers describing the origins of the Social Security crisis or debating whether it's actually a crisis just to find the 1 paper with an actual proposal for fixing it.

They also don't group their topics around specific problems that need to be solved--for example, their health section has very broad, very bland topics like "health services for children" and "food and nutrition" and "licensing and regulation." That strikes me as not terribly useful: those are all potential solutions, but give no indications of what problems they might solve. If I'm an aide to a state legislator, and we're looking for new ideas about how to address the fact that Medicaid expenses in the state are growing so fast that it's threatening the viability of the program, I want to know what ideas are out there to specifically address that problem. Will investing more in food and nutrition programs bring down medical costs? What about public health measures that target children? Or is the real silver bullet in implementing certificate of need regulations on hospitals to keep capital costs low in the entire system? If I already know in general what sorts of things I'm going to have to address to fix the problem, then (1) I already probably have a pretty extensive background in the area, and I'm going to know who puts out research on the specific topic I'm looking to as a solution, or (2) I may as well just use Google, because my search terms are going to be precise enough to pull up exactly what I want (and Google certainly has more articles available than this repository does).

I hate to say it, but this kind of reminds me of schools dumping millions of dollars into putting computers in classrooms, without a really clear idea of *what* those computers might be used for, or how to set things up so students get the most out of a "wired" school. Yes, technology is great. Yes, the web gives us all sorts of brand spankin' new tools to organize and search through data. No, just throwing everything together and saying, "Look! A new repository for information!" is not going to revolutionize everything, sorry.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:13 AM on November 22, 2008


Most of the points you make are well taken, iminurmefi, but I'm not sure the point is to revolutionize anything here. It's just a new (launched June 2008) repository for public policy information that is gaining momentum. Looks promising so far-- give it time.

if policy research is scattered across thousands of university and think tank websites--well, how is that a problem, exactly? Is it that Google doesn't index that research (I doubt this is the case), or is it that people aren't very skilled at searching for it? Is it that there's a lot of un-scientific crap out there, and someone needs to separate the wheat from the chaff?

I'd say all of the above, plus the fact that even if Google indexes something, that doesn't mean it's accessible.
posted by Rykey at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2008


My work - a health policy think-tanky sort of place - has just begun to add its reports, fact sheets, etc. to the Policy Archive's database.

Today, if policy research is scattered across thousands of university and think tank websites--well, how is that a problem, exactly? Is it that Google doesn't index that research (I doubt this is the case), or is it that people aren't very skilled at searching for it?

It's a signal-to-noise thing. If, for instance, you're looking for policy information about Medicare Part D, and you google "Medicare Part D", you get a zillion hits, most of which (on the first few pages) have little or nothing policy-related. Googling "Medicare Part D policy" gets better results, but there's still an irritating amount of noise.

I'll agree that the Archive needs to do an effective job of getting word of its existence out into the world (and this post helps do just that). But I'll disagree that it's difficult to find, say, papers that address solutions to a problem. I did a search for "children health insurance increase participation" and got back lots of decent-looking stuff on lowering barriers to insurance for kids. Presumably, anyone working as a health L.A. in Congress is going to know what terms to use when searching, and any non-health policy, regular-type person who's interested enough in policy to find their way to this site is also going to have decent search skills.
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on November 22, 2008


Yeah, it seems like a good idea but Google works just as well for most of this stuff-- and far, far better for drug policy, which is hidden and has bizarre, old stuff mostly.
posted by Maias at 11:44 AM on November 22, 2008


Well, don't write it off just yet - the site's less than a year old, and it's opt-in, and new stuff is being added all the time. Can't see how a site like this is a bad thing. (A google search for "drug policy" returns 1.95 million hits; awful lot of noise, there.)
posted by rtha at 12:36 PM on November 22, 2008


Holy crap this is awesome; thanks!
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:44 PM on November 22, 2008


I know this is an ironic comment for an article on a policy archive, but MAN a lot of comments here are tl;dr.

But anyway, awesome find. =)
posted by aliceinreality at 2:38 PM on November 22, 2008


actually, the first two pages on drug policy give lots of good hits on google-- you've got the drug czar's office and Rand and the key drug policy reform organizations.

All of those give you a much better start than most of the documents in that site, which are either way too specific (lots about Jewish drug addicts-- ok, there are some of us, but this isn't the big issue you tend to want to find documents on in drug policy) or old (the 1980's are well-represented).

yes, it's new and i'm sure think tanks will post more stuff. but searchers want to find *relevant* stuff, not what the policy wonks want them to find. Unless this gives you a better way to do that, it won't add that much. But it could be a good historical repository, potentially.
posted by Maias at 4:33 PM on November 22, 2008


I like this but I wish it was possible to filter by publication date; some of the publications are fairly old (1913?)
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:29 PM on November 22, 2008


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