Blogging for The Good

Development Policy23 Feb 2010Marieke Hounjet

As a last blog on the ‘theory vs policy’ conference I thought it might be appropriate to write about the function of ‘blogging’ for improving the research and policy interface. This topic was given some serious dedication through a roundtable with well known academic bloggers. In order to wrap up the main thoughts of this debate in the typical blog style – short and accessible – I made two lists with the pro’s and ‘con’s of blogs:

The pro’s:

  • Policy staff read blogs, even on the senior level. For example, Obama is known to read tweets or blogs of A. Sullivan.
  • Daniel Drezner (Tufts University) argued that now academics can blog ‘without being ridiculed’ or damage their career.
  • Academics relate to and engage with people outside of academia. As Joseph Nye Jr. (Harvard University) said there is a strong argument to spend more time as academics to inform the public.
  • Bloggers themselves feel that it is good practice to write every day and that it enhances one’s career as it leads you to new ideas and research topics.
  • Blogs have ‘a premium on clarity and accessibility’.
  • Blogs could function as good archives for social science research, providing an ‘academic notebook’ to enrich our understanding of how ideas fit into context.
  • Academics should in Stephen Walt’s (Harvard University) words “not want the blogging world to be dominated by people that know less than us”.
  • Blogs make it more difficult for the academic to pretend that your work stands aloof from the world out there, and therefore provides an incentive to relate to it.
  • Blogs form a way for academics to retrain themselves in new forms of writing and communication that can reach more people.

The con’s:

  • The institutionalisation of blogs has created barriers for new independent bloggers to start blogging.
  • Blogs can be time constraining. Some bloggers are employed full time to blog and therefore can be time consuming discussion partners.
  • The hard impact of blogs on policy is very difficult to measure.
  • There are currently no ethics, norms or principles that guide the blogging world. For example, Walt argued that there should be more transparency with regards to bloggers disclosing who is funding them and for what reasons.
  • Blogs lack a certain set of standards, especially compared to editorial pieces or peer reviewed journal articles.

In terms of comparing the evidence presented above there is plenty of room for discussion. Some might find that certain bullet points severely outweigh others, and I would completely agree with such a standpoint. I would also like to point out that the speakers were very positive about blogging and that the constructive criticism (from the con’s list) had the purpose of creating a sphere where it can be addressed. The impact of research on policy is a hard thing to measure in general and blogs do not provide the solution for that. However, a point that I take away from the conference is that many see communication as the key for better interaction between policy-makers and researchers. These interactions are yet to take place on a scale that it can have true impact, and there are understandable barriers in place. One can imagine that a policy maker would have found it difficult to justify visiting a conference for three (working) days. Hence, this is exactly the arena where blogs can make a difference, which for an author of a blog herself is quite a happy note to end on.