Many policymakers have backgrounds in academia – a fact that goes a long way to building understanding and trust. Trust not only among individuals but also in academic research per se. UNU-MERIT’s 10th ‘MEIDE’ conference put this theory to the test, revealing among other things how much, and under what conditions, academic researchers are able to influence decision makers.
Held in Montevideo, Uruguay, 16-17 November 2017, this edition of the ‘Model-based Evidence on Innovation and Development’ (MEIDE) conference was co-sponsored by UNU-MERIT, the Inter-American Development Bank, and several local and regional partners (see below).
Almost 100 people joined the conference, of which around a third were women. The greatest contingent came from the host country, Uruguay (30), followed by the neighbouring states of Brazil (13), Argentina (8), and Chile (6). Eleven came from Europe, eight from North America, and the rest from other Latin American countries. However, there were no Asian or African delegates – a compositional inequality that shows how important it is to hold the conference on different continents in every edition.
The two keynote speakers were Prof. Jacques Mairesse from UNU-MERIT and CREST/INSEE, who presented his work on the role of gender parity in scientific research, and Prof. Jordi Jaumandreu from Boston University, who spoke on productivity analysis with demand and technology heterogeneity. There were altogether 19 sessions, two plenary sessions for the keynote addresses, one plenary round table with decision makers and 16 parallel sessions with on average three papers each.
There were two special topics this year, one on obstacles to innovation in Latin America and one on innovation and productivity. The other topics were on labour and innovation, competition and innovation, intellectual property rights, managerial practices and innovation, the sources of firm performance, knowledge collaboration, growth and inequality, innovation policy, internationalisation and innovation, framework conditions and technology, and knowledge and economic performance. The conference was attended mainly by academics, by some decision makers and a number of young scholars, including both postdocs and PhD fellows.
What do policymakers want?
The round table with policymakers centered on how policymakers perceive the role of academics and how much they trust the findings of academic research. This was an eye-opening session, revealing how much, and under what conditions, academic researchers can influence decision makers. The invited policymakers had all been academic researchers at one point in their careers and were therefore in a perfect position to understand both sides. Below is a summary of the debate and recommendations from two participants.
PIERRE MOHNEN, PROFESSOR, UNU-MERIT
2. Waiting for months to have a report that is scientifically sound is not something decision makers appreciate. Actually, this kind of attitude (common among academic researchers) is something that decision makers despise!
3. To be able to convey a message to a decision maker, researchers have at most 5-10 minutes. Hence messages should be concise and clear. One or two pages will do: any more will not be read.
4. Academics and decision makers have different goals: the former strive for the truth with all its nuances and reservations; the latter do not need to know the whole truth but rather something that can help to take action and be defended.
5. It often happens that the last person to talk to a politician before action is taken is the one who has the greatest influence.
6. The action taken is often dictated by political pressures. Besides the economic efficiency, there is the political feasibility. That is something very important to keep in mind.
ELISA CALZA, PHD FELLOW, UNU-MERIT
1. Research provides major inputs for policymakers in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). From new methodologies for collecting and analysing indicators to new forms of information gathering, like ‘big data’, so much can be used to update policies. The aim is to align STI policies with evidence-based approaches: from design to implementation to evaluation. However, the relationship between academic research and policymaking rarely fulfills its potential.
2. Research often fails to address what is relevant for policymakers. For example, the implementation of STI policies is understudied compared to the design and evaluation phases. Methodological aspects are also important: academic research on STI policies has increasingly focused on quantitative analysis (e.g. for policy impact evaluation / assessment), but policymakers also need stories: case studies are crucial in showing the people behind a policy instrument.
3. Academics often struggle to bridge the communication and culture gap, unable to translate research results in a format that is understandable or usable for policymaking. Policymakers are running against time and need clear and practical insights – they do not have time to think! Put simply, academics need to learn how to ‘translate’ their results into the language of policymaking.
Local and regional partners
Centro de Investigaciones Económicas, Uruguay (CINVE); Comisión Sectorial de Investigación Científica (CSIC) – Universidad de la República; Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administración, Universidad de la República; Facultad de Administración y Ciencias Sociales, Universidad ORT Uruguay; and Red Sudamericana de Economía Aplicada (Red Sur).
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.