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  • Writer's pictureClara Richards

Are researchers isolated from politics? Research within the policy process – from our Topic Gu

Researchers are not separate from politics. The separation between research and policy -and politics- is useful for researchers and their funders but is unhelpful when we attempt to properly understand the nature and manner and how ideas develop and make it, at least officially, into the policy process.

This separation is, of course, also an illusion. Politicians across the developing world have a background in academia. Many are researchers who dabble in politics or maintain political connections over time. Ministers in key departments such as economics, social policy, trade, agriculture, energy, health, and other are often presented as ‘technocrats’ and used to confer the government a sense of political neutrality.

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for instance, has had a long career as an academic, an international development worker, and a banker, as well as a politician. Alejandro Toledo, Peru’s former president, too, has had a long career as an academic. In fact, Latin American and African leaders have very strong links to academia. So strong are they that the idea of any kind of separation between politics and ideas seems impossible.

In response, the Topic Guide’s third section focuses on research as part of the policy process itself: Research within the policy process. By taking this view, it is possible to ask a number of interesting questions about the manner in which research is undertaken, pursued and employed:

In this section, the authors consider:

  1. The political economy of research uptake: Interestingly, the guide makes the very relevant point that the political economy of research uptake is an intrinsically political matter. This is something often forgotten when the language of ‘theories of change’, ‘impact’ and ‘value for money’ takes over.

  2. The role of narratives & ideas in policy arguments: Research is not undertaken in isolation or outside of existing narratives and broader ideas that guide researchers (as well as their funders and audiences).

  3. Evidence-informed/evidence-based policy and influence: There is a difference, not usually acknowledged, between policy being better informed and policy being influenced. Unfortunately, efforts to improve policymaking (by better informing it) are confused with efforts to influence policy.

  4. Research functions/roles in different policy contexts: The function of research is different depending on a number of factors and circumstances. It goes beyond the simple problem solving role.

Each subsection includes a number of resources from a broad literature. Your inputs are still necessary.

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