Research Communication: Why Doesn’t Research Turn Into Policy?

30 October 2012

At the recent UNU-WIDER research conference on development and climate change, the communications team took the opportunity to ask participants visiting us here in Helsinki for their views on how research turns into policy. We heard many interesting perspectives and they are presented here in this video. For instance, one response was that researchers have actually been very effective in informing policy makers on the risks of climate change and they do have a strong sense of social responsibility.

‘Of course, they can do better and interpret their material in more accessible ways’, says John Langmore from the University of Melbourne, but he is still impressed by the quality of commitment shown by many scientists for policies to change the amount of greenhouse gases emissions.

Yan Peng Ng, a visiting scholar at the University of Helsinki, also believes that research is often turned into policy, but there are differences between disciplines depending on how complicated the issues are. Therefore scholars need to put more effort into translating their research into something others can understand. Thus, she stated what could be seen as a general agreement among the people interviewed: there is certainly a language issue.

One particular theme was consistent and that is the lack of communications skills or ambition among researchers. If research results cannot be translated into a language that policy makers understand then a mediator needs to be brought in.

‘People don’t have the weight of scientific proof in the back of their heads all the time’, says Mikko Halonen from Gaia Consulting Ltd. He recommends that research communication should be turned into something fun and inspiring with new methods, for instance with the help of social media.

Sometimes that does not help much either since much too often policy makers do not bother to dig into research findings.

‘In Nigeria we have a lot of research, but not much of it turns into policy. They just don’t take it to read’, says Adebukola Daramola from the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Even efforts by researchers to compress issues into one-pagers sometimes render no results. ‘They say they don’t have the time’. Raghavan Suresh from Bangalore based Policy Affairs Centre directly blames researchers. ‘They sit on high horses, stand on pedestals, don’t bother to demystify their research and make it intelligible, not only to policy makers but also to ordinary citizens.’

Carl-Gustav Lindén is Senior Communications Specialist, UNU-WIDER.