In my last post I discussed about the policy-academia gap. One additional issue is that the entry costs into the policy debate are extremely high for researchers and experts. Without exhaustive ground work, and without a continuous exposure to policy makers and the general public, most researchers do not have the option to get direct access to either politicians or to provide even official statements in wide-read newspapers about policies.
The outcome then is that policies get promoted on the wishful thinking of politicians who may be good at guiding public opinion but not well-informed when it comes to the actual impacts of their policies. Donald Trump knows how to play with the opinions of his voters, but he is certainly unaware of the wide-spread consequences that his policy decisions or tweets have. British Michael Gove recently said that “Britain has had enough of experts”. Clearly, if experts had advised policy makers about the potential costs of Brexit and in turn policy makers had used this information to inform the public, then the Brexit vote would have looked different. Experts, researchers and academia are there to inform the policy makers about the consequences of their policies, that’s all. Voters and policy makers in return decide over what they feel then is best for them.
Apart from the question of whether or not policy makers actually want to be made aware of the potential consequences of the policies, which is the demand side issue, an additional problem is the supply side. Researchers tend to have an access problem when it comes to informing policy makers about their policies.
Young researchers, despite having built a strong expertise in their topic of research, generally do not have the outreach and lack a platform to share their knowledge or communicate it to the right policy makers. They also have not had the time yet to build a network and thus face difficulties to disseminate their knowledge. This biases policy advice to the older established researchers who may have less incentives to take part in the formation of policies, may have less time available, or are already committed to too many policy advice groups.
In addition, many researchers are highly specialized and their knowledge will only be a useful input to few debates. This implies an entry barrier that leads to a selection of researchers into policy work that are less specialized and may lack the precise knowledge necessary to provide the best policy advice for specialized topics.
When I told Peter Zapfel from the European Commission about this he suggested that the EU had solved this problem of an entry barrier via its Stakeholder platform where any new EU policy is first opened up to comments from the public. However, from a researcher’s perspective this platform is far from useful.
Firstly, nobody knows what will happen with the information received. Researchers do not get feedback from their comments. This is a big problem as it means that any effort may simply be for naught.
Secondly, it takes a significant amount of time to write a good analysis of a policy. This is time taken away from preparing teaching or writing on one’s own scientific contributions.
Thirdly, the reports written cannot be used in a researcher’s CV, so essentially this means it is something that the researcher solely does to help guide policy making.
Fourthly, researchers do not know whether the policy itself is currently evaluated within a body of the EU or whether there are other researchers who are also taking positions about this policy. In this case there could be a larger overlap between the works undertaken, and that would simply translate into time wasted.
So what is the way ahead? I would argue that the EU should create a platform where they commission reports and provide proper incentives that at least deal with the four points raised above. One option would be to provide financial incentives, another option would be to give the reports that they receive an official status so that these reports receive visibility which then allows researchers to use them in their CV. This should be done for both ex ante evaluations of policies, but also for ex post evaluations.
Another option for the EU would be to create specific task forces that they open up for each proposed policy, where this task force consists of researchers, other experts and policy makers, potentially special interest groups. There would then be an official platform where these task forces would be announced, and anyone can apply to be part of these. There would be a selection committee, and that committee would evaluate the participants and the reports, both ex ante and ex post. If this is done right, then it can be done in a way that minimizes regulatory clutter and reduces the deadweight loss from policies.