Legislative Decision-Making can be Influenced by Testimony

Faculty; Policy; Research

Most state legislators say testimony at legislative hearings is influential, though few report that it changes their votes, finds research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers surveyed 862 U.S. legislators in 2012 and asked them about the impact of testimony.

While only six percent reported that testimony changes their vote, most legislators said it influenced their awareness of issues or encouraged them to take action such as conducting additional research. They cited knowledgeable and credible presenters who presented unbiased information as having the most impact.

The paper was published online in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management.

“Testimony does matter, especially if it is delivered by credited, trustworthy presenters,” said lead author Sarah Moreland-Russell, PhD, assistant research professor at the Brown School.

“Based on our findings, advocates should choose presenters with these qualities and who present evidence based information to represent their position,” she said.

Moreland-Russell said the research is a promising finding for public health advocates seeking to influence policy.

“The results of this paper suggest that testimony may overcome some barriers encountered when using other, less direct or immediately accessible forms of dissemination,” Moreland-Russell wrote in the paper.

“Testimony can provide policymakers with more and higher quality evidence to have on hand before a decision, and may actually cause legislators to make a decision on a policy issue and help to bridge the gap between health research and health policy.”

Co-authors are Colleen Barbero, data analyst at the Center for Public Health Systems Science (CPHSS); Stephanie Anderson, project coordinator at CPHSS; Norma Geary, graduate research scholar in the Prevention Research Center; Elizabeth Dodson, PhD, assistant research professor at the Brown School; and Ross Brownson, PhD, the Bernard Becker Professor at the Brown School and director of the Prevention Research Center.

Brownson and Dodson are also faculty scholars in the Institute for Public Health.