Research - Finding & Using Data
I'd rather be approximately right than exactly wrong.
-- John Maynard Keynes
It is critical to remember that you are not trying to convince yourself. You are looking for the piece of information that will move the person you need.
You are already a true believer. You need to move policymakers who have different agendas, other distractions, different ways of learning, and much less time to devote to your issue than you have. A fact that may be extremely meaningful to one person may be irrelevant to another.
Links to resources are below
• “Consider the source” is commonly the first advice new legislators get from more senior legislators and staff. Work hard to be a trusted source.
• Based on our survey, CT policymakers most trust information from legislative staff and state agencies. Start there searching for information. Especially look for “official” goals or benchmarks that the state has set for itself.
• Connecticut has consolidated a lot of data on one site at CT Open Data. You can also find a lot of data at the resources listed below.
• The CT Data Collaborative offers exceptional advice and support to data users in Connecticut. They also provide training on using data for free or at very reasonable costs.
• Search federal sources next, such as the Census, CDC and CMS.
• Next use journals, academic institutions and trusted non-profit sources, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Affairs. Advocacy organizations, provider and professional organizations are moderately trusted. Media and industry organizations are least trusted.
• Use your own information – both statistics from your program and stories from your experience. These are very powerful.
• Remember to cite your source. Plagiarism is serious misconduct; people have lost jobs because of it. You will be judged very harshly by legislators, staff, and other advocates compromising you as a source into the future.
• Information from a disinterested party is more persuasive. Nonpartisan organizations that take great pains to remain neutral carry more weight than politically-affiliated groups.
• In some cases, supporting information from an unlikely source can be very persuasive.
• Never spin or “massage” information – Do not take quotes out of context. Do not use “fuzzy math” to make a point. Eventually you will be found out. You can never get your reputation back.
• Be careful in using small numbers or data from very small populations. That is not a reason to exclude the data, just frame it clearly. For example, “While his patient list is not long, a local pediatrician estimates that the number of uninsured patients in his practice increased 25% last year.”
• Be certain that definitions are the same when making comparisons. For example, one survey may label a respondent as uninsured for answering no to “Do you have health insurance now?” while another survey may frame their question, “Have you been without health coverage in the last year?” Do not assume that because two numbers are from the same source, that they are comparable.
• Make reasonable adjustments. For example, a dollar of health care in 1950 would cost far more now – spending would increase in a program that was just keeping services level. Also adjust for population size. Ten infant deaths in one year would be far different in a small town than in a big city.
• Pay attention to information that does not support your position. It is critical to know what your opponents are going to say and to be ready to respond.
• To find information, contact friends and follow up on their recommendations. People often know where to find things that are not available on the web or not easily accessible. Or they may know someone else who knows.
• Check your numbers three times. Have someone else check your work.
• Don’t overanalyze, if it will delay the work. Too many great reports – beautifully formatted with perfect research – are released too late to make a difference.
US Government information and data sources
Data.gov federal data source
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System – statistics by state on health risks
MEDPAC – the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MEDPAC)
Connecticut government information and data sources
Search CT government website
CT State Library – sign up for a library card to access databases
CT Department of Public Health – vital records, publications, Topics A to Z, statistics and research
CT Department of Labor -- labor market information
CT Department of Social Services HUSKY information
CT Legislative Library – another excellent resource, located on the fifth floor of the LOB, very friendly, helpful staff –
especially look at their research guides
Nonprofits and Academic sources
A User’s Guide to Legislative Health Notes, Pew Charitable Trusts
State policy guide; using research in public health policymaking, Council of State Governments
PubMed – US National Library of Medicine
Connecticut Community Health Needs Assessments – from the CT Hospital Association