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  • Writer's pictureLeandro Echt

Reading recommendations: research and policy overview

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Are you interested in learning more about the relationship between research and policy? The following studies, also found in the Topic Guide, may be of interest:

Solesbury, W. (2001). Evidence Based Policy: Whence it Came and Where it’s Going. ESRC UK Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice. London: Queen Mary University.

This concept of ‘evidence-based policy’ has been gaining currency over the last decade, particularly as the agenda has moved on to a concern with policy delivery as much as with its policy development. From the research perspective, more particularly that of social science, there has been a drive by funders of research for researchers to undertake what is considered ‘useful’ research, research that helps us not just to understand society but offers some guidance on how to make it better. This has come with a realization that to be useful research must be usable. Thus, academic researchers are increasingly engaging in ways that users of research find helpful.  For instance, how to structure a report, write in plain English, and make a five minute presentation are now seen to be as important as how to design a questionnaire, conduct an interview or analyze data. To a large extent this can be attributed to the arrival of the pragmatic and non-ideological government of New Labour in the UK in 1997, when civil servants were encouraged to open up the policy process to outsiders to provide ‘evidence’ (wider than ‘research’). Evidence is no doubt an important part of the weaponry of those engaged in policy discourse, but is a weapon that must be used with care as with other sources of power.

Carden, F. (2009). Knowledge to Policy: Making the most out of development research. Ottawa: IDRC.

The findings of this study are based on 23 case studies borne out of the IDRC’s work on getting research into policy in developing countries. The case for evidence-based policy is made on the basis that development is based on good governance, which the IDRC’s work on improving the role of knowledge for sustainable and democratic development attempts to inform. Simply put, to improve lives, especially the lives of poor people, development research has to influence policy in order to influence development. The process by which they do this is less clear, however. The collection of case studies allow for a number of identifiable conclusions, the most important being that research can contribute to better governance in a number of ways: first, research encourages open inquiry and debate; second, it empowers people with the knowledge to hold governments accountable; and third, research enlarges the array of policy options and solutions available to the policy process. Thus, when research is well designed, executed, skillfully communicated, it can inform policy that is more effective, more efficient, and more equitable. Yet experience also leads to another conclusion: development research frequently fails to register any apparent influence. Secondly, the case studies show that things change, both in research and in policymaking, and research projects must adapt to their changing surroundings.

Enrique Mendizabal (2012). ‘Politics of the evidence-based policy mantra’. Onthinktanks blogpost.  October 17th 2012.

In this blog article the author considers criticisms of the evidence-based policy ‘mantra’. Concerns regarding the discourse include that it is anti-democratic, narrowing participation down to ‘experts’ rather than the public; that it is difficult to ‘export and attempt to apply’ the evidence-based policy ideal to all contexts where institutional structures simply do not exist; the assumption that evidence-based policy works ‘better’ to deliver measurable development outcomes, ignoring other factors such as political repression and human rights abuses; and finally,  that actually evidence-based policy approached make it harder to think about policy in a nuanced way limiting the kinds of questions being asked about the actual factors that contribute to policy decisions. The author concludes by arguing that “evidence based policy is as ideological as the very approaches to policymaking it seeks to discredit.”

For more like these please visit the Topic Guide’s Introduction and let us know if we are missing any ‘overview’ studies and articles.

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