Blogging on the policy process: thought from an academic perspective

To get our blog rolling, we at Power to Persuade have set ourselves the challenge of imagining what a cross-sectoral blog focusing on the policy process can offer. Below, I reflect on this from an academic perspective:

Making research relevant to policy is often spoken about like it’s a new problem - one that stems from the rise of mass media and a frenzied political climate. No doubt, these factors don’t make the task any easier, but ensuring the take up of research and scientific advances has been noted as a challenge for over a century.

The big difference, from the perspective inside the academy, is that we now operate in an environment of heightened accountability which dedicates different ideas about what is valuable. This environment has shifted us further from the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, towards applied work with actionable research outcomes.

Yes, something is lost in this shift. Blue sky research, where intellectual and scientific freedom leads us to unanticipated knowledge, is a good example of something less and less likely to be undertaken in contemporary universities.

But, arguably, much is gained as well. The current environment demands that the next generation of researchers be more engaged, outwards looking brokers of knowledge, not just producers. With any luck, this will make for better research and policy.

Yet, engaging and connecting with the end users of research (wherever they may be) requires new skills for communicating.

As Duncan Green recently noted on Croakey, researchers need to tell shorter, more convincing stories to get the attention of both the media and policymakers. We think that spaces like Power to Persuade provide an important avenue for honing these skills, as well as connecting with like-minded groups who could become powerful allies.

Power to Persuade pushes us to engage not just over specific policy issues, but over the process – something that is only beginning to be understood by researchers. And, in many ways, a process that is likely to continue be elusive too all involved because of its dynamic nature.

As a researcher, I also see Power to Persuade as a space that encourages different kinds of accountability. As Deborah Lupton notes on her blog on academic blogging (yes, really), the practice of writing for diverse audiences challenges academics to think about their research and writing in new ways, and to communicate findings in ways which accommodate multiple audiences.

Focusing on process related issues helps us to open up our practice (whether that’s the practice of research, advocacy or policymaking) for self-reflection and peer learning. Here, we need only look to healthcare for examples of how opening up our practice can improve it. Peer review and support schemes in medicine have been found to be critical to inducing change.

Posted by Gemma Carey, postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University