Does scientific evidence capture the attention of policymakers?

Leire Rincón García

Does scientifically-backed information capture the attention of policymakers? To test this, I conducted a field experiment embedded in a real-life advocacy initiative targeted to members of the European Parliament in April 2018. As described in my Evidence & Policy article, ‘The silver bullet reversed: the impact of empirical evidence on policymaker attention’, results indicate that ideas-based information, rather than empirical information, gathers more attention from policymakers. More precisely, it is the announcement of ideas rather the actual information which manages to capture policymaker interest. Crucially, these findings hold across political groups, policy support and gender.

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Learning from 2020: Why collaboration and transdisciplinarity must mark our forward paths

Sara Bice and Martin Bortz

Today’s decision-makers need the evidence and insights of transdisciplinary research. Transdisciplinarity enriches our capacity to respond to complex problems by broadening perspectives on issues that are too complicated to be understood fully from one disciplinary angle.

COVID-19 presents an obvious example. The pandemic requires the insights and advice not only of medical and public health experts, but of policy scholars to inform government action; urban planners to model population movements and transport usage; epidemiologists to run big data models on potential virus spread; mental health experts on the implications of lockdowns and isolation; educationalists on the opportunities and pitfalls of home-schooling; behavioural psychologists on how to ensure restrictions will be accepted; the list goes on.

But how do we create diverse and effective research collaborations?

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Research brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners – how similar are they?

Jennifer Watling Neal, Zachary P. Neal and Brian Brutzman

Brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners facilitate communication between researchers and practitioners but are these various terms simply different labels for the same role? We spent the last year reviewing published articles in health, education and the environment to explore how each of these terms is defined. In short, we found that, when these terms are used, most of the time they aren’t defined. But, when these terms are defined, there are key differences in what they mean.

There’s increasing recognition that brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners play a key role in connecting researchers and practitioners. However, inconsistencies in whether and how brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners are defined make it hard to understand, evaluate and leverage these roles.

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Walking the tightrope: expert legitimacy as a navigation between technocracy and politics

Justyna Bandola-Gill

What makes experts legitimate in the eyes of policymakers? Even though this is one of the foundational questions of the interdisciplinary scholarship on evidence and policy, the answer is neither straightforward nor simple. Expert legitimacy is driven by seeming contradictions – experts have to be responsive to policymakers’ needs but, at the same time, they cannot be too close to politics. They have to provide advice which is strongly grounded in science but if their advice is too complex it risks being ignored or being perceived too ‘detached’ and ‘academic’. Experts are legitimate when they are insiders and outsiders at the same time.  This dynamic has become particularly evident in the ongoing pandemic, where government advisors have had to represent (and at times defend) science whilst at the same time accounting for what policy directions are ‘doable’ – publicly and politically acceptable and economically feasible.

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The five minute guide to evidencing research impact

Helen Allbutt and Stewart Irvine

Does research add value? How can we tell? With no mechanism to quality rate research outside of the university sector, research can be overlooked, or worse discontinued, particularly when organisations face ever-increasing pressures. In this blog, we discuss how we sought to protect our research investment by providing an evidence trail of how project findings contributed to strategic priorities. This blog covers the key points of what we did and what we found: for a fuller version, see our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Research assessment in a National Health Service organisation: a process for learning and accountability’.

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How do policymakers perceive qualitative research?

Rebecca S. Natow

Qualitative research has the potential to be of great value in policymaking. By examining stakeholders’ lived experiences, providing rich detail about policy contexts, and offering nuanced insights about the processes through which programmes are implemented, qualitative research can supply useful information that is not easily, if at all, obtainable through surveys and other quantitative methods. However, policymakers consistently express a preference for quantitative research. This is particularly true for randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which have been called the ‘gold standard’ of evaluation methods.

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Decision-making of knowledge brokers in moving evidence to action along pathways in global health

Theresa Canova Norton

‘An e-mail never made me change the way I do things’, a colleague once said. Implicit in this statement is the idea that passively receiving information alone is unlikely to motivate change. How might this observation inform the way we approach disseminating the best available evidence? This is what we explore in our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Maybe we can turn the tide’: an explanatory mixed-methods study to understand how knowledge brokers mobilise health evidence in low- and middle-income countries’.

Knowledge brokers are intermediaries who provide a potentially vital role galvanising change. Studies of knowledge brokers have mostly taken place in high-income countries, so we know much less about knowledge brokers in LMICs. To help address this gap, a global health focused research team conducted three studies following up with knowledge broker participants of international conferences in 2012, 2013 and 2015. The aim was to identify whether evidence from the conferences was shared with others and led to actions such as changes in health policy and practice, and what factors influenced decisions to share and act on evidence.

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What I’ve learnt about participatory budgeting for research funding decisions since publishing

Cobi Calyx

I’ve learnt a few things in the few weeks since my Evidence & Policy debate article about using participatory budgeting for research funding decisions has been published. This article emerged from my PhD research about tradeoffs in deliberative public engagement with science. It argues that using participatory budgeting public engagement methods to make research funding decisions would further the international shift towards public participation in governance.

More controversially, my article argues that this would be a better way to reform research funding than lotteries, which others’ research indicates would be better than current norms. Norms are changing though – one of the things I’ve learnt more about since publishing this article is how the Health Research Council of New Zealand has been using a lottery to allocate some grants. They have been doing that for long enough to publish a peer-reviewed paper about it.

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Social science that improves people’s lives: what strategies should social science and humanities researchers use to foster greater social impact?

Emilia Aiello, Claire Donovan, Elena Duque, Serena Fabrizio, Ramon Flecha, Poul Holm, Silvia Molina, Esther Oliver and Emanuela Reale

Scientific research has the potential to improve people’s lives, but the translation of scientific evidence into social impact is not always easy. According to the Expert report of the European Commission ‘Monitoring the impact of EU Framework Programmes’, ‘social impact is the improvement of society and citizens in relation to their own goals (like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals)’. How can social science and humanities research achieve this?

Governments and society increasingly demand that scientific research demonstrates social impact and benefit. In this context, scientists are encouraged to reach out to their communities, share their research and its impact on people’s everyday lives, listen to communities and consider their research from the perspective of the people they serve. Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) research has been challenged in this regard and has been at risk of being eliminated from the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation ‘Horizon 2020’. In response, it is necessary to identify and promote the use of effective strategies for enhancing the social impact of research, so that it can inform evidence-based policies and the actions of professionals, citizens and civil society organisations.

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Lessons from the field about how to ‘nudge plus’

Liz Richardson and Peter John

Behaviour change policies, known as nudges, have been used by governments across the world to get people to behave in pro-social ways, such as making healthier lifestyle choices or reducing their environmental footprints. Nudges use behavioural insights to steer people into doing the right thing, while also giving them the choice. Critics argue that traditional nudge policies are top-down, manipulative and un-transparent. Nudge policies seem to expect the worse in people, and are easy to caricature as a technocratic approaches to policy design.

However, a new kind of nudge – ‘nudge plus’ – has started to spring up. Nudge plus tackles the risks of paternalism in traditional approaches through the participation of those being nudged.  If nudges are going to be even more ‘bottom-up’, how can such behavioural public policies be developed?

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