Georgina Aboud: Power always drives out puzzling – part two

Development Policy28 Aug 2009Georgina Aboud
This week The Broker is blogging from the Towards Knowledge Democracy conference in Leiden, The Netherlands. Conference Blogger Georgina Aboud will report back from the event which invites participants to share visions and experiences on how to deal with the challenges and possibilities that occur on the interface between science, politics, society and the media.

We know the world is built on uncomfortable truths, and the seminar ‘Inconvenient knowledge and Policy-making’ shone a torchlight on a truth which we all know but wish was different. From within the discussions about approaches, disciplines and institutions comes the nub of change, talked about in other sessions but explicitly discussed in this one. The idea that research feeds nothing if it doesn’t already comply with ideals

Ellen Wayenberg from Ghent University examined how knowledge stemming from research was used and came up with three models in which it could be utilised. The first was a knowledge driver model where policy makers were open to the results that yielded and policy would be based around them. The second model was an interactive one whereby knowledge would feed into decision making and will help shape policy. The third one was political –tactical which was a ‘closed model’ whereby political decisions where knowledge wasn’t considered as part of the process. It comes as no surprise that when these models were tested in Flanders at central and local level, the dominant model was the political – tactical one.

When Ellen examined the reasons for this she discovered that it wasn’t due to a lack of knowledge or access to expertise but that knowledge is used when it suits policymakers and is deemed flawed when it does not. In the discussion that followed a Dutch politician recognised the analysis as true but did suggest that process can also sit between the interactive model and the political-tactical. People then began to discuss volume of research and others that had worked in government said the amount of information was overwhelming and impossible to digest. Whilst a researcher suggested that mathematical or statistics research was usually picked up ahead of contextually phrased research, others suggested that information intermediaries were vital in the presentation of infomation.

As an information intermediary both by blogging at The Broker and as an editor for Eldis, it was great to hear that the value added by such services was deemed not just as important but necessary. Intermediaries don’t just filter questions they assist in framing them, in finding out the REAL information required. This was argued (and not just by me!) as the way of getting research rather than personal preference into policy.