Why Doesn’t Research Turn Into Policy – Or Does It?


  • 2012•12•11

    Carl-Gustav Lindén

    Video frame

    Photo: UNU-WIDER

    At a recent UNU-WIDER research conference on development and climate change in Helsinki, the Institute’s communications team asked participants for their views on how research turns into policy. A selection of their perspectives are presented in the video below.

    One response was that researchers have actually been very effective in informing policymakers on the risks of climate change, and they do have a strong sense of social responsibility.

    “Of course, they can do better, and interpret their material in more accessible ways”, said John Langmore from the University of Melbourne. But he is impressed by the quality of commitment shown by many scientists for policies to change the amount of greenhouse gases emissions.

    Yan Peng Ng, a visiting scholar at the University of Helsinki, also believes that research is often turned into policy, but sees differences between disciplines depending on how complicated the issues are. Therefore, scholars need to put more effort into translating their research into something others can understand.

    She stated what could be seen as a general agreement among the people interviewed: there is certainly a “language issue”.

    One particular theme was consistent: the lack of communications skills or ambition among researchers. If research results cannot be translated into a language that policymakers, understand then a mediator needs to be brought in.

    “People don’t have the weight of scientific proof in the back of their heads all the time”, said Mikko Halonen from Gaia Consulting Ltd. He recommends that research communication should be turned into something “fun and inspiring” with new methods (for instance, with the help of social media).

    But sometimes that does not help much, since much too often policymakers do not bother to dig into research findings. “In Nigeria we have a lot of research, but not much of it turns into policy. They just don’t take it to read”, said Adebukola Daramola from the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research.

    Even efforts by researchers to compress issues into one-pagers sometimes render no results. “They say they don’t have the time”. Raghavan Suresh from the Bangalore-based Policy Affairs Centre directly blames researchers. ”They sit on high horses, stand on pedestals, don’t bother to demystify their research and make it intelligible — not only to policymakers but also to ordinary citizens.”

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    This video article was originally published in the UNU-WIDER WIDER Angle newsletter.