How to take research to policy without poisoning the well

Posted on November 14, 2016  /  0 Comments

My talk at the International Research Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura has been published in a newspaper. I described two critical issues facing our country and highlighted the dearth of good evidence. In the concluding part, from which the excerpt is taken, I discussed the challenge of maintaining quality.

We must do these hard things, subjecting ourselves to the highest levels of quality control. Because the only thing worse than not being engaged with the policy process is its pollution by the introduction of bad research into it.

Peer review is seen as the gold standard to prevent this, but it has many shortcomings. In the policy arena, it’s not always practical to wait for peer review to be completed. The policy window or opportunity can close before the peer review is completed. Sometimes we have to build peer review into the discourse itself.

In the social sciences we work with open systems. Our so-called subjects are capable of learning and changing even as the research is going on. The levels of certainty and exactitude are possible with inanimate objects of study within closed systems is not possible in our fields.

The questions we ask and the assumptions we make are shaped by who we are and where we came from. Therefore, we must allow room for difference and debate in public discourse, even when based on research findings. Beyond impractical and idealized notions of the public sphere, we need to come up with workable alternatives.

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