[Editor’s note: This post is part a series produced by Vanesa Weyrauch and Leandro Echt from Politics&Ideas to present the conceptual framework and is implications developed under the project “Going beyond ‘Context matters”, supported by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP).]
We have focused our previous post of on the intra-relationships with other State departments and agencies, which refer to the internal relationships between the public institution and other related government players. This post will delve into the inter-relationships with non-State stakeholders: the interaction with relevant users and producers of knowledge who can affect or be affected by policy design and implementation.
We are all aware of the different actors and roles that take part of policymaking policies. Indeed, as societies become more open, transparent and inclusive, the policy landscape populates with individuals, groups and organizations exerting influence on what decisions are made, how, etc. Knowledge becomes just one of the many factors playing a role in the discussion, formulation (or re-formulation) and implementation of public policies.
Among relationships with non-state stakeholders there are five key sub-dimensions that recurrently influence the production and use of knowledge in policy:
- Existence and types of policy forums and epistemic communities
In terms of external relationships, the existence of policy forums or networks for sharing knowledge and expertise is frequently highlighted as a very important contributing factor to the tendency of using evidence in policy processes. It is to be expected that ongoing and formal interactions between policymakers and researchers enable the development of trust and can positively influence policymakers’ views of evidence. This is particularly relevant in developing countries where policymakers are unfamiliar with current scientific approaches or view universities and researchers as sites of opposition to government.
Within these interactions, some authors and practitioners point to the existence of “epistemic communities” – that is, colleagues who share a similar approach on an issue and maintain contact with each other across their various locations and fields then create new channels for information and discussing new perspectives. These are believed to be particularly effective if they include prominent and respected individuals (Court and Young, 2003)
- Formal channels of interaction with researchers and research institutions
When there are limited systemic or institutional channels for policymakers and researchers to interact via, there is a “gulf” between them: there are problems with engagement, collaboration or communication between stakeholders or there is inadequate dissemination.
Even when a channel is created, both sides face significant challenges in investing time to participate in these due to tight agendas and researchers having to commit time to paid projects.
Links with other training or educational institutions should also be considered among factors that can enable more interaction between research and policy, as well as the existence of intermediaries who facilitate interactions between policymakers and researchers.
Finally, the role of international experts as well as regional and global programmes linked with policy-relevant research should also be considered, as they often influence both policymakers, and influence (and finance) local researchers. In this sense, there is an increasing trend to emphasize how this external help should be guided by local agents, as owners of the change process.
- Number and type of civil society actors involved in decision processes and degree of vested interests
Pressure groups or individuals with vested interests and general citizens also exert significant influence over the extent to which evidence is used in certain policy discussions and design. Research is unlikely to be used if the required reforms go against the interests of important political players.
For example, strong vested interests have a significant impact on health and other policies (including how much budget is allocated) and tend to disincentive evidence use and limit the scope of possible policy reform for policymakers (Sumner et al., 2011).
On the other hand, the existence of an educated and aware public with the capacity to understand evidence may enable a broader and more frequent use of knowledge to make decisions. Links have been found between higher literacy rates and greater use of evidence (Broadbent, 2012). Indeed, incentives to support decisions with information lessen if citizens do not demand their political leaders to justify the decisions they make.
- Status of consensus on the policy base
Furthermore, interviewees consulted for this study pointed out on more than one occasion that, if research is complemented by the views of people, it is more likely to be used. For example in a case concerning the issue of child trafficking in Zimbabwe, Munhamo (2015) detailed how:
“A parliamentary committee went out to six regions to seek the views of people on how this issue should be dealt with. So if there is research that has been done and the parliamentary committee finds the same evidence from people then the results are much more likely to be used, because it has been validated by the people, there is supporting evidence.”
- Relationships with donors
In many developing countries relationships with donors play a pivotal role in the use of research in policy. Often, they have taken on a long-term functional role in the provision of knowledge to the policy process, thus eliminating a major incentive for internal reform (Sherlock and Djani, 2015). Policymakers frequently have to anticipate the responses of donors when developing policy, which may result in them failing to consider research even when it is available. Also,, when political leadership does not request any analytical input, technocrats find it very difficult to take advantage of knowledge produced with the support of external donors.
Moreover, as many donors need to take care of relationships with governments, showing negative results is avoided. Many donor agencies are often under great pressure to disburse allocated budgets before the end of the financial year, and the careers of many individuals depend on this (Datta and Jones, 2011).