Theme 3: Policy Impacts

This theme is coordinated by Jakob Edler from the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIOIR) at the University of Manchester.

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Figure 1 Policy user conditions for the impact of science - the OSIRIS framework (Edler et al. 2020)

In this theme we seek to contribute to a better understanding of the impact of science on policy. Conceptual development is the foundation of the 'Policy' theme in OSIRIS, supported by empirical research. On this page, we will briefly explain our theoretical framework about the conditions for science to create impact on policy and then describe how it inspired a series of international case studies in multiple policy settings and a survey of policy organisations in Norway.

Conceptual Framework

While utilising the general OSIRIS approach, we developed a novel conceptual framework to allow us to focus on the institutional conditions in the policy-making systems, because we are convinced that these conditions co-determine research agendas, patterns of co-production of knowledge, demand for and use of scientific knowledge, and thus its impact (Figure 1). The framework we developed helps in particular to analyse the conceptual impact of science - i.e. when we observe a change in the normative and cognitive understanding of policy problems, of causalities underlying these problems and of possible solutions to this problems in the minds of policymakers and politicians.

The framework is informed by the discursive institutionalist research that emphasises the role of ideas in policy-making and the organisational institutionalist research that theorises about various institutional elements that affect knowledge transfer, acquisition, and absorption. This approach enriches the existing perspectives on the relationship between science and policy - it draws the attention to the role of policy organisations and their ideational filters, enabling an analysis of the conditions and behaviours on the side of scientific research ‘users’. We ascribe importance to both the conditions within policy organisations, termed ‘intra-organisational conditions’, and the broader conditions within the organisational fields they are embedded in, termed ‘inter-organisational conditions’. The framework also recognises the characteristics of individuals as ‘thinking’ agents capable of reflecting about new ideas and evidence.

The framework elaborates three implications for current and future research:

  1. The institutional dimensions of the framework are interdependent. For example, the ability, willingness and readiness to understand the nature of scientific knowledge, interpret its outcome and assign credibility does not only depend on "rigorous" scientific approaches and appropriate dissemination activities of academics. Rather it also, maybe mostly, depends on the interplay of appropriate regulative, cognitive and normative conditions within policy-making organisations and between policy and research organisations.
  2. Existing research approaches need to acknowledge and confront the gaps in their understanding of the processes of use and impact of science. There is an increasing demand for scientists to produce impactful knowledge. Many research councils, such as the UK Research and Innovation Council, the US National Science Foundation, and the European Framework Programmes, now explicitly ask for engagement strategies in funding applications. There is still widespread belief among many practitioners and certain scholars that as long as research evidence is high quality, robust and relevant, it will be used by (rational and unbiased) policymakers. Research evaluations can reliably and systematically can identify instances of research use and attribute them to academics. The impossibility of this ideal scenario still needs to be confronted by relevant communities.
  3. Ideational alignment is important to accomplish policy missions. The calls for mission orientation across the OECD implies that science, technology and innovation policy can find solution to societal problems. However, there is a widespread agreement that different areas of policy (transport, energy, health etc.) need to be strongly aligned to accomplish this. This means that problem framings and the policies that develop solutions need to be underpinned by evidence that can be understood and shared by diverse organisational actors. This is not simply a question of traditional policy coordination. It is, in a very fundamental sense, a question of ideational alignment and co-evolution. 

The discussion paper is available for download here.

Published May 13, 2017 11:39 AM - Last modified Nov. 26, 2020 1:54 PM