What to expect when you’re disseminating a fact sheet to legislative audiences via the Research to Policy Collaboration.

The Research-to-Policy Collaboration strategy involves being responsive to policymaker needs. One way we respond to these needs is through guiding the development of targeted, timely, and relevant research syntheses that contain actionable recommendations. These guidelines were developed to inform researchers about RPC’s (1) fact sheet development process, (2) selection criteria, (3) dissemination approach, (4) science communication trials while providing an example success story and (5) answer frequently asked questions.

Fact Sheet Development Process

  1. The RPC has formatted templates to use for finalized fact sheets. Fact sheets are succinct and are typically ½ page to 1 page long. This eases the burden on staffers of having to read through many pages of text.
  2. Researchers may be invited to synthesize research-based ideas and actionable recommendations on a topic (see below for the criteria). Please note that if a fact sheet’s topic or content is not timely and/or relevant to current policymaker needs, the RPC may request changes to the fact sheet or decline to move forward with the product.
  3. Authors are asked to prepare a first draft within the next 7 to 10 days, depending on the policy narrative and momentum at the time
  4. The RPC team provides editorial support including guidance on framing, organization of content, clarity, conciseness, and avoiding partisan language. Editorial support may occur at any point during the drafting process, from idea conception to finalizing the document.
  5. Authors address feedback and send back a revised draft for a second round of reviews.
  6. Authors address any remaining edits (if needed) and approve the final document.
  7. The RPC formats and finalizes the fact sheet using the pre-existing templates.
  8. The fact sheet is distributed to policymakers (see below for dissemination methods).

Selection Criteria

Effective fact sheets that align with RPC’s goals should:

  • Focus on policy implications. Policymakers appreciate explicit connections to how information could be applied to their work.
  • Provide context and research evidence. Research is more than just data or statistics – it also includes causes, consequences, and best practices.
  • Be non-partisan. Fact sheets help disseminate research evidence to policymakers, the importance and usefulness of which transcends political parties and ideologies.
  • Avoid lobbying. The RPC does not lobby, which means we do not endorse specific bills or specific legislation changes. To avoid lobbying, fact sheets should present a menu of varying policy solutions and not endorse specific legislative action or programs.
  • Contain clear language. Policymakers and researchers often use different ‘languages’ to communicate. Avoid using jargon and overly complex explanations/descriptions.

Dissemination Methods

The RPC distributes fact sheets in multiple ways:

  • Fact sheets are posted on the RPC’s website and can be viewed by anyone who visits the page. If the fact sheet is created in partnership with another organization that wishes to host the information on their site, please let us know so we can plan accordingly.
  • Fact sheets that align with specific offices’ interests (e.g., the office is vocal on an issue or has mentioned the issue to RPC during meeting[s] with us) are sent to individual staffers in those offices by the RPC.
  • Some fact sheets are chosen, with the consent of the author, to be distributed as part of RPC’s science communication trials. Factors taken into consideration for being chosen for the trials include timeliness of the topic, intended policy audience, and previous trial content.

Science Communication Trials

Please refer to the information below if your fact sheet is chosen to be distributed as part of RPC’s messaging trial:

  • We handle the logistics and sending. Very little work will be required on your part.
  • Expect a fair number of email responses, sometimes lots of them. That’s good news! We help you navigate this influx.
    • We will send you instructions for how to set up a filter that will redirect all the incoming emails to a new folder and may forward it to our email account as well. This filter stops the emails from crowding your actual inbox.
    • While you do need to skim all of them, you will only have to interact with a few.
      • Some will be auto-replies or quick messages of “thanks for sharing”.
      • Others ask you questions, like if they can share the link with others or if you can provide the link in a non-hyperlinked format. It is your role to respond to these. Please ‘CC us on the responses you give because it helps us track your engagement.​​
  • Following the dissemination period of 14 days, your RPC team will follow up with you.
    • Once we have results, we’ll share them with you, including:
      • How many people opened the email and clicked on the fact sheet link?
      • Out of all the responses you got, how many are from people who also clicked the link?
      • How did different tests of science communication turn out? (Yes, these tests are IRB-approved!)
  • We will then share with you the dissemination’s impact (i.e., what it means for our broader goals).

An Example Success Story

Luke developed a fact sheet on how policymakers can support healthcare workforce and their families during COVID-19. With his permission, we not only featured this fact sheet on our COVID-19 webpage, but also disseminated directly to over 7,000 state and federal lawmakers on his behalf. This mechanism was based on indicators from our other work that policymakers are more likely to open and access the direct delivery from individuals rather than organizations.

The RPC sent the emails on behalf of Luke from a communication software, to send on Luke’s behalf and automatically redirect all responses to his own email. We sent Luke’s fact sheet on a Wednesday and then let the email recipients interact with it for two weeks until we closed data collection. Luke received most of the email responses on Day 1, but continued to receive a couple throughout the 14 days (and some even after that!). Keep in mind the day of the week that we send might impact when you get emails—often not over the weekend.

After that 14-day period, the RPC team explored the data:

  • How many people opened the email?
  • How many times did they open it?
  • How many people clicked on the fact sheet link?
  • How many times did they click it?
  • How did different tests of science communication turn out? Did one strategy outperform another? Why do we think that is?

Luke’s fact sheet distribution was a success! He got hundreds of clicks, over 10x what we would get on wider distribution mechanisms (e.g. e-newsletters). Sixty of the responses he received were from people who also clicked the link, so that influx of emails had some genuine responses. That’s why it’s important to scan through all the responses you receive. Some researchers have even been invited to do other things, such as present their work for state legislative groups.

With Luke’s trial, we had tested if one subject line would outperform another. We compared a subject line that was supposed to sound like it was a title for a paper in an academic journal to one that tried to be more casual. We thought that the one that sounds academic would be opened or clicked less, given the disconnect between policymakers and academics. However, there was no significant difference. Perhaps it wasn’t a strong enough manipulation or perhaps staffers/legislators really don’t differentiate between lay/academic speak when selecting emails to read.

The other part we manipulated was the formatting of the email itself to look like it was coming from an organization/advocacy group (colored background, buttons) versus one that looks like, well, a normal email. We found that people clicked on the fact sheet more than 4x as often on the plain email than the fancy email. We rarely see effect sizes that strong in these trials. They were even more likely just to open the email, which maybe speaks to what spam filters look for in content.

This trial helped us understand the shortcomings of our weekly newsletters: individuals get a better response than organizations do, despite intentions of the organization. With that in mind, we have stopped sending out newsletters from RPC and are instead shifting to sending out researcher’s fact sheets on their behalf, as we did with Luke. The success of Luke’s dissemination illustrates the need for researchers’ direct engagement with policymakers, and that timely, targeted evidence has the potential to generate fruitful collaborations.


I’m not sure whether my fact sheet includes lobbying – what do I do?

No worries – the RPC is here to help! Read the considerations below and, if assistance would still be helpful, email the RPC associate(s) you are in contact with about the fact sheet.

Things to consider:

  • Did you only mention one policy solution to the issue you wrote about? Consider adding more directions policymakers could take to address the issue. Consider politically diverse policy directions.
  • Is specific legislative action endorsed or opposed? You may describe the legislative content, and how that aligns or contrasts with research evidence, rather than taking a stance on the bill or legislative action.
  • Ask for help! Our skilled policy associates are able to provide guidance.

My fact sheet is longer than 2 pages but everything seems important and I can’t cut it down. 

  • Staffers have limited time to read through long documents. Consider the purpose of the fact sheet – it is not to summarize decades of research on an issue, but rather to provide key points that 1) explain the policy solutions you discuss and 2) relate to a policymaker’s interest in the topic.
  • View fact sheets as conversation starters rather than documents that must contain everything. Identify the main points you think are most important and must be made, then align the rest of the content around those points.

Other Training Topics

  • Science Policy and Advocacy Roles in the U.S. Congress

  • Disseminating Fact Sheets to Legislators

  • Research-to-Policy Collaboration

  • Messaging Science for Legislators