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Panel 120 - New Ways of Informing Policy by Leveraging Scientific Knowledge: Two models related to public academic collaborations

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

New Ways of Informing Policy by Leveraging Scientific Knowledge: Two Models Related to Public-Academic Collaborations

Organized by : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Chantal Barton

Speakers : Bipasha Baruah, Canada Research Chair in Global Women’s Issues, Western University; Ian Clark, Chief of the Economic Research, Science Integration and Outreach Division, Natural Resources Canada; Ioanna Sahas Martin, Director for International Assistance Research and Knowledge, Global Affairs Canada; Maïka Sondarjee, SSHRC Doctoral Candidate, University of Toronto

Moderator : Madeline Johnson, Foreign Service Officer, Global Affairs Canada

Takeaways and recommendations

Collaboration between academics and government is key

  • Public servants are fortunate to work in a public service where evidence-based policymaking and working with external partners is valued.

  • A lack of information and knowledge isn’t the problem. Rather, people don’t always know how to access that information or use it. Government officials need to access information easily and understand how to turn it into policy.

  • Academics need to be more policy-oriented, and government agencies need to value research more.

  • Both external researchers and government policymakers draw on different capacities, but it is the collaboration between the two that produces the highest quality and most valuable research and best strengthens the evidence base for policy.

  • It is critical to foster more and more effective collaborations between them.

  • To do this, researchers and policymakers need more opportunities to interact and build partnerships.

Barriers for academic engagement in the public sector

  • Academia and government, especially in Canada, do not have a history of employees moving between them. We need to create more opportunities for such exchanges.

  • The United States and United Kingdom are examples of societies where the barriers between the two sectors are more porous.

  • The academic incentive system can be a barrier to outside engagement, although this is changing. All knowledge translation work needs to be valued.

  • There are more opportunities for early-career and late-career researchers to get involved as mid-career researchers are often focused on time-consuming activities that lead to tenure (i.e., publishing in peer-reviewed journals) and starting families.

  • Policymakers should recognize this reality and target early- and late-career academics, while academic institutions should create more opportunities and incentives for mid-career researchers to collaborate with the public sector.

  • Marshaling government collaboration through the contracting process (i.e., procurement) can be difficult, cumbersome and time consuming.

Expanding academic training

  • Academics need to train for more than just being university professors – especially since there are not very many jobs in this area.

  • Academic training needs to include training for communicating complex ideas to a general audience.

  • Academics need to learn to write for a policy-oriented audience, to apply their work to policy fields and to value policy writing and policy partnerships.

Policymakers need to welcome and value academic researchers

  • Researchers have varied skills, beyond their specific research field, that can be applied to different areas and ideas. Researchers need to be able to articulate these skills, and policy makers need to understand and value them.

  • Government departments need to provide academics, particularly young researchers, more opportunities to interact with policymakers.

  • Bringing aboard young researchers creates long-term relationships and gives government access to a pool of amazing brains that can be brought in on other research projects.

  • A small monetary investment can yield high results when hiring young researchers.

  • External researchers help deliver high quality research that includes robust and evidence-based recommendations.

  • Bringing in outside researchers can offer a different viewpoint, helping policy makers in identifying new issues or gaining a fresh perspective on older ones.

  • Outside perspectives can also help governments break down departmental silos. Often it can be easier for an outsider to explain the context of why and how policy issues are multi-departmental.

  • Short-term research needs are hard to deliver in government departments given the focus on day-to-day pressures and priorities. To meet those shorter timelines departments have to shift priorities, make organizational changes or increase their recruitment efforts to bring in more researchers. It can be easier and more affordable to bring in an outside researcher for such a project.

  • Academics are more nimble than government scientists – in addition to shorter-term projects, they can take on a wider range of research topics with longer horizons.

  • Increasingly, academics apply a multidisciplinary approach to their research.

  • Lots of data are collected by government but are not being used. Academic researchers could help with data analysis.

Policymakers bring strengths to the collaboration

  • The policy community brings insider knowledge and perspective on emerging government priorities. They ensure a policy lens is brought to bear through the entire collaboration.

  • Having the end users of research involved helps to ensure that the right questions to explore are being asked from the beginning.

  • Some departments, like Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), can adopt a cross-sectorial approach to identify knowledge gaps.

  • Within NRCan, there are a variety of expert working groups whose resources and expertise can be leveraged to implement and guide the collaboration.

  • Government workers can help navigate tricky procurement processes.

  • Policymakers can ensure that research findings have actual policy relevance and will produce recommendations that are realistic and can implementable by senior management.

How academics benefit

  • Interacting with government can give researchers insight into policymaking processes and the tangible uses of their research in that context, help them make new connections and build relationships, and contribute to more informed decisions about future research.

  • Researchers may learn to communicate their research in a new way, and how to frame it in a real-world context.

  • Accessible communications is not “dumbing-down” the research. Rather, it’s about the ability to translate information to different audiences.

  • Some findings in academia initially seem to be unrelated to the policy world, but may actually be very useful in a broad range of policy contexts, if aptly apply to these contexts.

Examples of effective collaboration models

  • The International Policy Ideas Challenge (IPIC), a partnership between SSHRC and Global Affairs Canada (GAC), gives graduate students and emerging scholars opportunities to inform priority policies with evidence that policymakers understand and can put into practice.

  • IPIC is a unique way to leverage scientific knowledge into the policy world and we need more programs like it.

  • NRCan’s Economic and Policy Research Agenda works with academics to strengthen evidence-based decision making, address knowledge gaps on emerging NRcan’s proprieties, build capacity to respond to longer-term and cross-cutting challenges and enhance partnerships with external research experts.

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