Government-sponsored policy research: getting the right balance between academic quality and ‘usefulness’

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

I was recently reviewing a (non-UK) government-sponsored research centre, and was struck by the tension between two goals. On the one hand, the government funders were keen to ensure the centre had solid academic credentials, and was carrying out work that was internationally recognised. On the other, it wanted the researchers to supply quite applied data and analysis to inform decision-making or debate, for example in the form of specific policy evaluations, briefings or even answering parliamentary questions.

These two types of function are, of course, very difficult to combine. Academic research worthy of its name requires a readiness to critically scrutinise concepts and assumptions employed by policy makers. It typically requires a far longer lead-in, and may focus on describing phenomena in a way that is not obviously relevant to policy, or developing generalisable claims that aren’t sufficiently specific to guide decision-making on particular policy problems. Often, rather than supplying…

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