Some of my fancies go way back. One of them is an interest in the way social science research and policy interact. In the late 90s, as the coordinator of the European secretariat of Metropolis International (a forum for bridging research, policy and practice on migration and diversity) I was the main author Building Bridges, a study on effective means of linking scientific research and public policy regarding migrants in European cities.
A lot of hard work went into that piece of writing and I traveled extensively for the data gathering. It was finally published early 2000, and I am still amazed about how contemporary its conclusions are.
However, I still feel that our study did enlarge the playing field considerably. Not that anyone noticed much, but maybe that’s why it still feels so relevant. We broadened the scope to seriously include context (and process, but that was less innovative), and argued for taking shifts of perspective as a conceptual strategy. I.c. not defining the issue in terms of utilization (the knowledge exchanged) but in terms of the relationship between the exchange partners.
When one looks at the context factors that we described, comparing 10 OECD countries, it still amazes me that such obvious influences of the research-policy interface have not become more standard elements in any analysis:
- historical particularities
- political culture & institutional structure of the policy sector
- academic culture & institutional structure of the research system in a particular policy sector
- the prevailing culture of public debate
- the policy philosophy of the sector concerned
- mobility of professionals between sectors and institutional settings
- place accorded to social science research as a knowledge producer by the political and
- administrative establishment
- political/administrative belief in rational planning
- status of different social science disciplines
The proposal to shift perspective was an application of Morgan’s famous treatise on images of organization. The basic claim of that classic is that, ‘[b]y analyzing organisations through different metaphors, by realizing that all these “readings” are partial, by realizing that the different aspects are intertwined (as opposed to the expectation that one metaphor “fits” the situation best), a new depth of understanding is possible’.
And to broaden the conceptual playing field even more we introduced the idea of “benchmarking”, looking at related issues as points of reference to make comparisons. In what terms are these issues being discussed? Which arrangements have proven their worth?
I still feel it was a very solid piece of work, but we must have done something really wrong to remain so overlooked by the field. It was by then 25 vears old, and felt a bit stagnant. Nevertheless, with new labor in the UK, a wave for evidence-based policy and practice revived the knowledge utilization production resulting in substantial output. But near all as far as I can judge remained as narrowly focused as the foundational work done earlier and didn’t add very much. Context is still being left aside, no knew perspectives are introduced. And hardly anyone looks across borders to “related” fields for inspiration and ideas.