works has yet to show with any reasonable certainty what changes have occurred in the nature, scope, and magnitude of the use of science as a result of different communication strategies or different forms of researcher-user collaborations (Dobbins et al., 2009b; Mitton et al., 2007). There is little assessment of whether innovations said to increase the use of science in policy have had or are having their desired effects.
A recent study reporting the results of a collaborative procedure among 52 participants covering a range of experiences in both science and policy identified 40 (!) key unanswered questions on the relationship between science and policy—this despite nearly four decades of research on the question of “use” (Sutherland et al., 2012). One extensive review of the literature reaches the striking conclusion that knowledge use is “so deeply embedded in organizational, policy, and institutional contexts that externally valid evidence pertaining to the efficacy of specific knowledge exchange strategies is unlikely to be forthcoming” (Contandriopoulos et al., 2010, p. 468 [italics added]).
Our conclusion is not that pessimistic. If “use” is broadly understood to mean that science—or, more specifically, in the language of evidence-based policy and practice, scientific evidence of the effectiveness of interventions—is incorporated into policy arguments, we agree that there probably will never be a definitive explanation of what strategies best facilitate or ensure that incorporation. But this conclusion does not rule out that the possibility that new approaches in the study of the science-policy nexus might reveal factors or conditions that have thus far been missed. Perhaps the preoccupation with defining use, identifying factors that influence it, and determining how to increase it has detracted from the search for alternative ways in which social science can contribute to understanding the use of science in policy. That possibility is the subject of Chapter 4.