Ajoy Datta had a good post at Research to Action recently about how Indonesian policymakers interact with research evidence. Here are some of his key points. First, policymakers are interested in evidence, but they tend to look for data rather than papers initially:
Our results show that when mid-level Indonesian policymakers in both large ‘spending ministries’ and smaller ‘influencing ministries’ are tasked with, say, developing or revising a regulation or law, their first priority is to acquire not research, but statistical data. Seen as objective, policymakers feel data will, for instance, identify current trends, recognise issues that need to be addressed, assign targets, and/or demonstrate impact.
However, the reality is that some policymakers find it difficult to access high-quality data, while others struggle to make sense of the huge volume of data that exists. Data on its own fails to show the causes of trends and does not point to potential solutions. This is where research can help.
Second, if policymakers want more context for the data they find, they’re fond of inviting experts in for discussions:
Most importantly, however, when policymakers did seek out research, rather than commission or read comprehensive research papers, they are more likely to invite experts they already knew to provide advice through social processes (which some policymakers consider as research). These processes usually feature formal and informal meetings or phone conversations, focus group discussions (FGDs), or seminars.
Part of this is because of constraints on the ability to either rapidly access existing research, or commission new papers on specific topics:
Procedures to procure research from internal research and development units, where they exist, is lengthy and cumbersome. This usually discourages them from making a request at all. In any case, these internal units often lack the capacity to produce high-quality research. Meanwhile, other procedures constrained policymakers from hiring top-end researchers from outside government to undertake research.
The main takeaway is that the social process of building trust between researchers and policymakers matters a great deal. This certainly poses a challenge for academics, as creating these relationships takes time, and unfortunately doesn’t count towards one’s tenure packet.