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The Topic Guide on Politics and Ideas: Introduction

Evidence based policy has, as the Topic Guide states in its introduction, become a sort of holy grail for policymakers (in the North and the South). If the concept is difficult to fully accept in developed countries with strong professional civil services, the idea would seem, for anyone with any experience working in a developing country, quite simply impossible to put into practice without a suspension of disbelief of significant proportions.

Some attempts have been made to water down the concept, for instance by suggesting that it is not ‘evidence based’ but ‘informed’ policy what is really expected. However, it is hard to believe this when both terms are used interchangeably by the same institutions supporting the idea.

In any case, many of those using the term (based on ‘informed’) have rarely had the opportunity to explore what it really means, where it comes from, and what it implies to the manner in which we think and act.

This guide attempts to offer a description of its recent past in the Blair governments in the late 1990s and early 2000s as well as the new literature on the evidence based policy in the international development field which has been produced by a few organisations in Britain and Canada, among other places. A long list of the resources reviewed is provided in each section of the guide and we ask you to contribute with any more that you think may be worth including.

The introduction to the Topic Guide provides some interesting insights from the various resources and its other sections, that constitute a starting point:

  1. There is no ‘best practice’ when it comes to linking research to the policy process.
  2. Though this may not be desirable, the reality is that research is not the only one element in what is a fiercely complicated mix of factors and forces behind policy decisions.
  3. For this reason, it is a mistake to approach policy as a rational, orderly, or unitary and linear progression from the statement of a problem to a decision and solution.
  4. It is important to acknowledge that ‘research’ is not pure, monolithic, or singleminded. Research is infused with diverse intentions, motives, and expectations.
  5. Analyzing the factors which influence the relationship between research and policy is important in understanding how the two relate.

By now these should seem obvious to the reader. But are there any other that ought to be taken as starting points to any attempt to provide an overview of the literature on the relationship between politics and ideas? Please share them.

Throughout the guide there are opportunities to add new resources, replace some with more updated or southern-relevant versions, and even correct the analysis and conclusions reached.  We want this process to be iterative and of co-production of new knowledge and therefore we ask for your help in making this happen.

How can you collaborate?

The Guide does not cover all possible topics in the ‘linking ideas and politics’ field. Nor does it include all the relevant literature. This is why we have not printed it yet. We want this to become a collaborative exercise with other researchers and practitioners in developing countries. We would like to think of this guide as a ‘challenge statement’ to encourage you to get involved.

Therefore we ask you to contribute to its further development by:

  • Suggesting new topics or issues that could be included in a final version
  • Recommending additional resources (please submit them in the same format as in the Topic Guide: the full citation, a hyperlink to the resource, and a summary)
  • Contributing to the analysis presented in each section of the Topic Guide by offering your own views and opinion
  • Encouraging others to participate.

We only ask that you take is seriously and that your contributions are measured and constructive.

You can participate by:

  • Adding your comments to the pages of each section (this would be the best)
  • Or by following the debate on Twitter, we will be following it

After we have shared all the sections we will review the comments and contributions and revisit the Topic Guide to produce a new version. This one will incorporate your resources and views as much as possible and constitute the first co-developed outputs of this new think net.

Go to the Topic Guide