How to Facilitate the Intake of Policy Relevant Research by Policymakers?

Keyword: 
Public policy
Topic: 
Politics and Economy
Poverty - Inequality - Aid Effectiveness

The need for evidence-based or, at least, evidence-informed policies is a major challenge facing most countries around the world, particularly developing nations. A better developing world can be built on the premise that good and properly applied policy research can accelerate development and improve people’s lives. In effect, developing and transitional societies can benefit substantially by fostering research capacity building and bridging the gap between quality research and public policies. Such a symbiotic relationship between quality research and evidence-based, sound public policies has been discussed extensively in an attempt to fully understand the link between researchers and policymakers, as well as the channels and processes through which public policies are produced and the stage(s) at which the intake for research evidence occurs.

The literature review on this topic portrays the development of two separate, yet connected lines of research. The first one revolves around theoretical perspectives or models of the policymaking process, and the institutions and dynamics directly involved. The second line of research in the literature addresses the “research-to-policy” link, including the empirical efforts to identify the main facilitators and barriers.

Among the theoretical approaches found, three analyses of the policymaking process stand out. The “two-communities” model by Caplan (1979) assumes the existence of two camps that are “isolated” and hence unable to take into account the realities or perspectives of one another. Consequently, two communities emerge: the social scientists—who see themselves as rational, objective and open-minded—and the decision makers—who perceive themselves as responsible, action-oriented and pragmatic. According to this thesis, two-way communication between these camps is crucial in order to facilitate a mutual understanding of policy issues. This effort therefore requires that researchers and decision makers agree on which issues can be addressed on the basis of research evidence and which ones require political judgment. It is important to note that Caplan’s thesis does not imply that research alone can answer policy questions, since these always require some political insight (Innvaer, Vist, Trommald & Oxman 2002).

There are also models revolving around the concept of use (Weiss, 1979). This theoretical perspective analyzes how research is used in policy formulation and how it functions as a guide during the decision-making process. This viewpoint is formulated through three basic approaches: 1) the rational approach, featuring “knowledge-driven” and “problem-solving” models, 2) strategic approach groups featuring “political” and “tactical” models, under which research prompts or delays policy action, and 3) the enlightenment or diffusion approach, highlighting that both research and decision-making processes take place in tandem with a number of other social processes and thus play several different roles (Almeida & Báscolo 2006).

One of the most recent proposals about the policymaking process is the integrated theory of influence (Kirkhart 2000). This approach allows for the assessment of the impact of research on policymaking. However, it does not analyze the “use” of research in the policymaking process; instead it considers the “influence” exerted by research during decision and policy making. As a result, the integrated theory of influence rests on three dimensions: source, intention and timing.

In contrast to these theoretical approaches, other scholars focus their attention on the identification of elements or situations which facilitate or hinder the intake of research by policymakers. Most of the empirical efforts to explore the use of evidence by policymakers focus on the analysis of these elements. The following are the main barriers identified by Almeida & Báscolo  (2006) and Innvaer et. al. (2002):

  • Absence of personal contact between researchers and policy-makers.
  • Lack of timeliness or relevance of research / Research process timeframes out of step with those of the decision-making process.
  • Mutual mistrust, including the perceived political naivety of researchers and the scientific naivety of policy-makers. 
  • Power and budget struggles / Ideological problems that constrain political rhetoric and the formulation of reform agendas.
  • Poor quality of research.
  • Political instability or high turnover at the policy-making level.
  • “Uncertainty” caused by scientific divergences. 
  • Different conceptions of risk at the individual or collective level.
  • Media interference. 

Similarly, Almeida & Báscolo (2006) and Innvaer et al. (2002) identified the main facilitators of research intake by policymakers:

  • Personal contact between researchers and policymakers.
  • Timeliness and relevance of the research.
  • Research that includes a summary with clear recommendations / Marketing and circulation of research.
  • High-quality research.
  • Research that confirms current policy or endorses self-interest
  • Community pressure or client demand for research.
  • Research that includes effectiveness data.

Our general conclusion is that the efforts to provide an abstract framework for the entire policy process have offered only a modest understanding of how policy is made and failed to explain non-linear processes behind policymaking, thus encouraging the search for new models aiming at filling these vacuums. Both the literature and preliminary findings confirm that policymaking processes are not standard; they significantly vary among countries, policy areas and especially among social and political contexts.

In theory, evidence-based policies derive in better outcomes than those which are not structured after some type of previous sound study because in order for policy-relevant research to address development challenges it must be fed by knowledge based on a variety of methodological approaches. This type of evidence base for policymaking can come either from a governmental “in-house study” at a technical unit or directly from academia. However, previous experiences in policymaking suggest that the “research-to-policy transfer” is not an easy process.
  

Questions:  

1. In practice, what are the main facilitators and barriers of the research-to-policymaking transfer?

2. Does personal contact or networking play a facilitating role in the intake of research by policymakers?

3. Is it desirable to implement mechanisms to align the academic research agenda to policymaking needs? Could this approach promote closer contact between academia and policymakers? (For example, The Public Sector Advisory Council by CIES in Perú, annually brings together ministers, vice-ministers and other high ranking policymakers with scholars from 45 academic institutions to discuss the future research agenda).

4. Do mid- and high-level technical advisors with prior academic experience facilitate the transfer of research knowledge to policymaking?

5. What concrete actions can be taken by an international NGO such as GDN to promote the intake of academic research by policy makers? 
 

References 

Weiss, C.H. (1979) The many meanings of research utilization. Public Administration Review Vol. 39, pp. 426–31.

Caplan N. (1979) The two-communities theory and knowledge utilization. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol 2, No. 3, pp. 459–70.

Kirkhart, K.E. (2000) Reconceptualizing evaluation use: an integrated theory of influence. In: Caracelli, V.J. & Preskill, H. Eds. The expanding scope of evaluation use. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass p. 5-24.

Innvaer, S., Vist, G., Trommald, M. & Oxman, A. (2002). Health policy-makers’ perceptions of their use of evidence: a systematic review. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, Vol 7, No. 4, pp. 239–244. Retrieved on february 15, 2011 from http://www.sandy-campbell.com/sc/Knowledge_Translation_files/innvaer%20s...

Almeida, C. & Báscolo, E. (2006). Use of research results in policy decision-making, formulation, and implementation: a review of the literature. Retrieved on february 15, 2011 from http://www.scielo.br/pdf/csp/v22s0/02.pdf

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