Public Health Law Research Methods

Public Health Law Research Program. Methods Guides are created by a leading public health law researcher from the PHLR Methods Core group, and are designed to help public health professionals understand how to conduct research in law, and help legal professionals understand scientific methods. Methods Guides are organized by their applicability to the stages of a project, from the development of the research questions and design of the study, through the selection of measures and collection of data, to analysis and dissemination.

Study Design

  • Defining an Emerging Field: Public Health Law Research. In a paper published in the Milbank Quarterly, a multidisciplinary journal of population health and health policy, Temple University law professor Scott C. Burris and colleagues formally introduce the field as a new way of looking at the relationship between law and health.
  • What is Public Health Law Research? Scott Burris, J.D., director of the center, explains in this podcast what public health law research is, and what kinds of research PHLR supports.
  • Building a PHLR Proposal Using the Scientific MethodThis podcast explains the importance and purpose of scientific rigor.
  • Crafting a Public Health Law Research Grant ProposalThis podcast offers advice for writing a successful funding proposal.
  • What, How and Why? Using Logic Models for PHLR ResearchThis podcast demonstrates the building of logic models.
  • Picturing Public Health Law Research: Using Causal Diagrams to Model and Test TheoryGiven the multidisciplinary perspectives of Public Health Law Research (PHLR) and the wide range of topics included in PHLR, the use of commonly-understood pictures to illustrate the ways in which law and health interact can be invaluable (Burris et al., 2010). Ranging from laws that prohibit individual behaviors, to laws that provide authority to act, to laws that regulate organizational practices, PHLR seeks to understand the mechanisms by which laws can improve health; visualizing these mechanisms in diagrams is an important tool for achieving such an understanding. The purpose of this monograph is to review some basic conventions used to create visual models, evaluate relevant examples of models in published PHLR studies, and offer recommendations for constructing clear and informative models.
  • Integrating Diverse Theories for Public Health Law Research. PHLR researchers can draw upon a variety of theories developed by socio-legal scholars to explain how laws are put into practice and how they influence environments and behaviors. Similarly, it is possible to integrate laws within general social and behavioral theories. And it is in fact possible to do both at the same time. These methods make it possible to substantially improve the validity, utility and credibility of health research on effects of laws and legal practices.
  • Evaluating Public Health Law Using Randomized Experiments. The monograph describes how randomized trials, the methodology now accepted as the most reliable method for measuring the effects of drugs and other  specific medical interventions, can be used to evaluate broader issues related to public health laws and policies.
  • Natural Experiments: Design Elements for Optimal Causal InferenceThis monograph shows how to design studies of public health laws in natural real-world settings.

Measurement and Data Collection

  • Creating a Public Health Law DatabaseThis podcast explains how to create a working database of public health law – a legal dataset.
  • Using Qualitative Methods in Public Health Law ResearchThis describes how qualitative research can advance the goals of PHLR and provides examples of qualitative data collection methods.
  • Measuring Statutory Law and Regulations for Empirical Research. This provides researchers with a practical how-to guide in applying the scientific method to measure the law for quantitative research.
  • Coding Case Law for Public Health Law Evaluation. This monograph explores the special considerations in coding text when the relevant legal materials are judicial decisions. The content of case law merits careful study not simply because judicial opinions reflect or respond to the law, but because they are the law. But, more than this, judicial opinions are detailed repositories that show what kinds of disputes come before courts, how the parties frame their disputes, and how judges reason to their conclusions.
  • Using Qualitative Research Strategies for Public Health Law EvaluationQualitative research helps form our understanding of relationships between law, legal practices and public health. Because of its inductive  nature, qualitative research generates insight into previously unstudied (or understudied) mechanisms of legal effect. Its various methods and strategies help uncover ways in which laws have effects that lie outside existing theories and models, and for which standardized quantitative measures do not exist.

Analysis and Dissemination

  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Perspectives from Public Health. The public health perspective highlights many mechanisms through which laws affect economic, social and physical conditions that, in turn, affect population distributions of risky or protective exposures and risky or protective behaviors that affect population health outcomes.
  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Perspectives from the Law & Society TraditionThis approach focuses on law in action rather than solely law on the books, enabling it to focus on “meaning-making” as a mechanism of legal effect.
  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Perspectives from EconomicsOver the past few decades, health economists have made substantial contributions to our understanding of how laws, regulations and other policies can address market failures in order to improve public health.  Dr. Chaloupka’s monograph provides an introduction to the concepts used by economists in this research.
  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Perspectives from Social PsychologySocial psychology plays an important role in explicating mechanisms of legal effect. From a social psychological perspective, laws and regulations can be classified according to the type of causal pathway by which behaviors are modified, for example, through changing attitudes, normative beliefs or self-efficacy concerning a specific behavior.
  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Theories of Procedural Justice. This provide researchers key theories from procedural justice which explain the influence of regulations and legitmacy on behavior.
  • Mechanisms of Legal Effect: Perspectives from Criminology. This provides researchers key theories from criminology which explain the influence of criminal law on behavior.
  • Economic Evaluation of Public Health Laws and their Enforcement. Policy decisions can be informed by information on anticipated costs and expected future benefits of courses of action. The key questions in economic evaluation of a public health law are whether its benefits, as measured by health outcomes or cost savings, exceed its costs; secondarily, there is the question of the distribution of those costs and benefits across stakeholders. Cost savings are concrete and  understandable benefits, and they provide a single compact measure that captures wrecked cars, stolen statues, fractured arms, even deaths.

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