How can we close the ‘cultural’ gap between the policymakers and scientists who ‘just don’t get it’?

policymaker scientist culture

There are many polite and optimistic studies of the cultural gap between policymakers and scientists. They recommend things like academic-practitioner workshops and knowledge brokers to generate a common language or shared set of policy aims.

The audience for these recommendations is, I think, academics and policymakers who are reasonable and empathetic, already with the ability to recognise the motivations of each other and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Yet, you will also find many examples of unreasonable actors who simply bemoan the fact that other people ‘just don’t get it’ (which really means that other people don’t think like them). How do we get them together?

A common solution proposed by scientists is to make sure that more policymakers are trained in science and that they consult routinely with scientists – but what are the equivalent solutions for scientists? Possible options include:

Retirement. We could wait for one generation of scientists to retire and be replaced by a new generation of scientists with more training in policy engagement.

Early training. We could incorporate more knowledge of policymaking into PhD and early career training, perhaps supplemented by placements in government to see how it works.

Identify specific people. Not everyone should, wants or needs to, engage with policymakers. Instead, maybe we can find simple heuristics to find the people most willing and able to go out of their comfort zone while presenting information outside the Academy. My favourite shortest short cut is to identify people who have written at least twice for The Conversation (by the second one, you accept that you might be simplifying your argument, working with an editor changing your argument, and/or likely to see a click-bait title change at the last minute).

Simple strategies for most people. In the absence of selection, we might simply encourage awareness about the most effective ways in which to present information to busy policymakers. This largely involves using evidence to answer at least two of three questions – what is the problem, why should I care, and what should I do? – preferably in one page of A4 or less. If you don’t do it, someone else (with less evidence and/or a poorer grasp of it) will.


Filed under Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), public policy

3 responses to “How can we close the ‘cultural’ gap between the policymakers and scientists who ‘just don’t get it’?

  1. Hi Paul, at Deltares we use Serious gaming to cross the gap 🙂

  2. Pingback: Evidence based policymaking: 7 key themes | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

  3. Pingback: Talks and blogs: ANZSOG trip | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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