Paradigm Shift: Transforming Policy Design into Evidence-based Policy Design

The following paragraphs address the existing phenomena of low attrition of research evidence in the design process of policies to improve our planet, its causes and what can be done to improve on it.

While there is no doubt that there are areas that lack robust research evidence, other areas do not make sufficient use of research available evidence till today. One should think that policies, as a matter of fact, are always the fine tuned product that coming into existence based on sound preparation and research – especially because there is barely a “roll back” for an executed policy. However, numerous authors like DuFlo , Dhaliwal and Tulloch , or Spiel and Strohmeier , stress the slow and incomplete uptake of research findings and highlight the lack of intensive cooperation between researchers, politicians and administrators when it comes to development and implementation of sustainable policies.

As a result of the low attrition, the term evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) was coined. In recent years, the uptake of evidence already increased positively, however still only a small subset of development programs is covered. In education for example, Spiel and Strohmann examine the development of a national strategy for violence prevention in the Austrian Public School System as a successful example for establishing a sustainable cooperation between research, policy, and practice. Is mere evidence-informed policy feasible? Frankly: No ; policymakers and politicians have political, technical, financial and time constraints that cannot be abandoned for pure EIP, but one has to argue that the uptake of evidence is so low, that there is still enormous scope to incorporate evidence in decision making, despite the presents of constraints.

Why not more of this? In the core, we can observe three major issues: First of all there is scarcity of robust research evidence, secondly, evidence is generally compounded by the technical language of research journals where it is usually published – seeming to be formulated merely for an elitist group of individuals and lastly, there are not sufficiently enough working means of communication of results to a policy audience that ensure an automatic transfer. Policymakers may have difficulties comparing different studies , especially if there is not clear guidance on how to relate new evidence to the existing research. If one would want to find the best intervention to increase school attendance in Sub-Saharan, should he or she commit to constructing new buildings, encourage community involvement, treat children for intestinal worms, or introduce something else like conditional cash transfers?

What can be done about these challenges? Dhaliwal and Tulloch  have presented how the gaps could be filled that they have observed between research and policymaking together with their colleagues of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty ActionLab (J-PAL). First of all you could create policy tools that allow for effective communication of finings to partners. Examples would be policy briefcases and a cost-benefit analysis which includes the ratio of program impact and incurred costs.
To encourage policymakers to make more use of rigorous evidence and promote a culture of evidence based decision making, companies like J-PAL conduct executive research courses with participants in key decision making roles in federal and state governments as well as international development organizations. The ultimate goal of this should be to foster partnerships between researchers and policymakers. However there are some barriers that cannot all be presented in this blog post, but are illustrated in Table 1 below. J-PAL for example has dedicated staff responsible for only answering policymaker’s requests, like identifying researchers for a planned program, or to send relevant information and presentations on a pressing policy issue. This is also facilitated through the conduction of conferences to provide a platform for finding matches and share knowledge. A successful example of this is the Chilean ‘Compass Commission’ . The Chilean Ministry has approached J-PAL to convene a commission to find out the most pressing social problems that the country faces and to brainstorm and evaluate innovative interventions to tackle them. The result was the Compass Commission which is like a taskforce that consisted of leading academics and policymakers from all over the world, ultimately submitting a report to the Chilean President in 2011.

The approaches outlined above may not present the best action alternatives for everyone as stakeholders may have very specific needs. However, the key message from this statement is to encourage committed individuals and organizations whose mission is similar to mine or J-PAL’s: Ensuring that policy is driven by evidence and research is translated into action.
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Table 1

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