Presentation by Dr. Maurice Bolo, during the Scinnovent Centre' training on The Art of Influencing policy Change: tools and strategies for researchers, held on 12th -14th February 2013 at The African Academy of Sciences Campus Nairobi
Bridgingg the research policy gap influencing policy change-nairobi
BRIDGING THE RESEARCH – POLICY GAP What role for researchers? Maurice Bolo, PhDBolo@scinnovent.org / email@example.com
PRESENTATION OUTLINE• Researchers as actors in the policy process• Why does the research – policy gap exists?• What can researchers do to bridge the gap?
RESEARCHERS AS ACTORS IN THE POLICY PROCESS Demand/advice/reactions Research to Policy Policy output understand/inform researcher the policy process /Research Policy recommendations Centre Governmental Designing actual agency policies to be implemented Policy Other analysts/ actors Centre
WHY DOES THE RESEARCH – POLICY GAP EXIST? (b) Under-utilisation of research owing to lack of (a) Political factors policy-relevant research shape the pull for and nature of decision- research and utilisation making of research in policyLack of policy-relevantresearch due to poorly Policy – researchframed research and gaplack of contextualisedcommunication
1. LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE POLICY PROCESS IN THE RESEARCH COMMUNITYThe formal and informal political processes that affectdecision-making, bargaining, opinion forming andinfluencing within government clearly shape howresearch is used or not used in policymaking.Three key issues stand out: (a) Randomness of the policy process (b) Percolation and filtering of research ideas (c) Politicization of policy choices
(a) Randomness of the policy process• Policymaking is a random and messy process – formal theories have not fully captured the nuances, trade-offs and developing country contexts• Policymakers are not always trying to make ‘the most balanced and evidence-based decision’, instead they make ‘acceptable’ or ‘compromise’ policies based on the limits of the situation• As the situation is fluid, how policymakers balance demands and compare different policy options will vary according to the time they have available and organisational constraints.
How then do issues get on the agenda?Issues get on the agenda only whenthree streams converge: a problem isrecognised, a solution is available, thepolitical climate makes it the right timefor change and the constraints do notprohibit action (Kingdon 2003: 88).
What does this mean for researchers?• The challenge is to navigate the political factors that shape how policymakers translate issues into problems• Kingdon (2003: 131–3) ‘survival criteria’ for how solutions/ideas survive the political stream and get on the decision agenda: • technical feasibility and value acceptability.
What does this mean for researchers?• Technical feasibility refers to the feasibility of implementation: whether it is ‘worked out’, ‘worked through’ or ‘ready to go’• Value feasibility relates to alignment with a certain political culture, a way of ‘seeing the world’ or mainstream political thinking.
(b) Percolation and filtering of research ideas• Rather than the specific findings, it is the concepts and theoretical perspectives that become embedded through a process of ‘enlightenment’.• Policymakers ‘cannot disentangle the lessons from their whole configuration of knowledge’.• Policymakers test research ideas against their own knowledge and judgement
What are the implications of this?• Influencing policymakers is a painfully slow process• Research must fit with how policymakers frame problems to even be considered.• Policy actors often merge research together and frame it with their other knowledge,• Hence the importance of communication to get research out in the public domain.
(c) Politicization of policy choicesResearch is only utilized if it is in line with the prevailingpolicy narrative i.e. • Often have pre-assigned policy objectives and are looking for evidence to fit within this. • Often policymakers either look for, or absorb, existing research that supports a predetermined position • Or they use research to ward off criticism and use it as ‘political ammunition’
Politicization of policy choices cont’d• Use of evidence is guided by political expediency and whether it advances the political actors’ agenda• This can lead to de-contextualisation, misquotation or selective use of research findings to support existing policy narratives.• Policymakers can also be held captive to public opinion or political commitments
2. WEAK DEMAND FROM POLICYMAKERS FOR RESEARCH EVIDENCEThree factors affect the demand andpull for research evidence (a) The nature of the decision-making process (b) Bureacracy of policymaking (c) The type of evidence
(a) The nature of the decision-making process•Decisions are a cumulative result of conflict andcooperation among different actors within a policyarena.•Understanding the decision-making processes can helpus understand when evidence can play a role in alteringthe momentum towards different decisions•Demand for and receptivity to research increases whenpolicymakers anticipate the need to make an importantdecision, particularly, after winning an election,appointing new ministers or responding to an urgentpolicy problem (e.g. climate change or financial crisis).
(b) Bureaucracy of policymaking•The capacity of policymakers to engage withresearch (new or existing) is often very low.•Habit and tradition, often embedded in a civilservice culture, may reduce the demand for newresearch evidence.•Parliamentary terms, timetables for policyreviews, procedures for consultation and theweak administrative capacity of many governmentministries can reduce demand for research.
(c) The type of evidence•How policymakers value different types and forms of evidence isshaped by the political context and the nature of the policy processand their ideological leaning, their professional expertise and theirappreciation for research•Some of the issues policymakers look for while judging evidenceinclude: •Quality: Credibility (reputation) and reliability (methods/analysis) •Relevance (to policy) and generalizability: how does it make me look good/do my job? •Sensitivity: is it disruptive to the status quo/current definition of problems? •Clarity: is it easy to digest and apply?
3. POOR SUPPLY OF POLICY-RELEVANT RESEARCHGetting research evidence to influencepolicy suffers from two supply-sideproblems: (a) Asking the wrong questions: poorly framed and poorly contextualized (b) Poorly contextualized communication
(a) Asking the wrong questions?•Research can take time to carry out and the reviewprocess which ends up in papers being published in ajournal can be lengthy.•Often by this time, policymakers will have drawn on tacitknowledge or their own pool of knowledge or contacts tomake decisions or to frame their thinking.•Research questions need to try to address currentevidence gaps in policy debates, or try to supply evidencethat helps to frame policy debates.
Asking the right questions?Whose research question? •Policymakers often want research that shows how impacts take place and why? or that produce evidence that demonstrate how things should be done differently or that offer practical guidance. •Policymaking is to some degree about problem-solving. Therefore how policymakers define ‘useful’ research will often depend on whether the evidence helps them solve a policy problem. •Local, national and international social and political processes constrain and facilitate how programmes are designed and implemented and affect who gains access to them and who is excluded. Pay attention to the political context
(b) Poorly contextualized communication•Good communication work can’t substitute for goodresearch; and can’t replace the absence of a political lens.•How policy change is understood affects how messagesare framed, and the timing and nature of influencingactivities.•A lack of understanding of the nature of policymaking,how policy narratives are created and the room formanoeuvre policymakers have, can mean policymessages and recommendations are poorly framed
How can researchers help bridge the research – policy gap? What we know Key lessons Putting it to practice The policy Policymaking is a random Be realistic about what is Build informal relations process and and slow process. achievable with government the political Decision-making is based on It is easier to change the context what is politically feasible. way problems are Develop an Research often percolates understood than specific incremental influencing slowly to influence thinking. policies. strategy Weak demand Policymakers make Assumptions about Understand how from judgements about the evidence are embedded policymakers define policymakers usefulness of evidence in social and political credibility and for research institutions. usefulness. evidence These judgements are more It is crucial to assess Analyse how they political than rational political space and frame debates, and prevailing policy their views about narratives. evidence. Poor quality Research is often poorly Successful Create partnerships supply of contextualised. communication is about with government research Advocacy is often poorly knowing how to shape Integrate political- informed by political messages, and developing economy questions analysis. strategies based on into political realities. research design