Knowledge exchange on research and policymaking
What does it take for research to be put into use? OSIRIS invited 32 practitioners from Norwegian public organizations to Blindern in April 2019 for an intro course in research policy and the impact of science.
Photo: Silje Tellmann, UiO.
«This is an experiment!». Centre director Magnus Gulbrandsen's greeting to the course participants highlighted the uniqueness of gathering employees from so many different ministries and directorates in one place to talk about use of research. Though the event was a course for public policy practicioners, the participants were not the only ones with something to learn. The course also offered the researchers a unique insight into the perspectives of the public sector employees who access, read, and use research in their work.
Mutual interest and learning
That there was considerable interest in this type of course was apparent as soon as the invitations went out. The 32 places were filled quickly, and promises to organize the course again were made before it even started. The most important themes on the agenda were the basic outline of the research process and research system, use of research in policymaking, quality in research and the difficulty of assessing it, goals and «missions».
In addition, the participants actively shaped the course by presenting and discussing examples of how they access and use research-based knowledge in their own organizations. This provided the OSIRIS researchers with a unique insight into the practical use of research in public organizations.
Vegard Hole Hirsch from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security heard about the course via a colleague.
«I hope to learn more about the relationship between research and public management and policymaking in general – what it’s like, and what it should be like. I also hope for some good ideas and approaches when it comes to how I can use research-based knowledge systematically and in an integrated way in my day-to-day work. »
Professor and vice director of OSIRIS, Taran Thune explains that today many ministry and directorate employees have educations of equal length and level as researchers.
«It is not unusual for policymakers and practitioners to have a Ph.D. themselves. We assume that the high level of education influences the use of research in public policy making, but we still know very little of exactly how research-based knowledge is used. »
To learn more about this issue, OSIRIS did a pilot survey in 2018, which shows that ministry employees often use informal channels to access research – such as googling or asking a colleague. Quite few go directly to the primary sources (such as journals), but this varies greatly between the different ministries. A full-scale version of the survey in June 2019 is expected to give more in-depth information on these issues.
Discussions and reflections around specific examples from the participants’ work was an important part of the course. The discussions showed that similar experiences occur across organizations.
One central theme was the questions of how to aquire research-based knowledge in a good way, and how public organizations can be more systematic in their use of research. Other discussions centered on how to connect general research-based knowledge to more specific issues, and/or «translate» research from one context to another for use in policymaking.
Knowledge has an expiration date.
Several participants experienced timing as a challenge: Getting research results published can take a long time, and public organizations cannot always wait. In this respect, knowledge has an expiration date. According to the course participators, this is an area where researchers and the research system has great potential for improvement – if their goal is to increase the impact of their research.
«Knowledge for us, meeting place for you» was Director Gulbrandsen’s quick summary of the course. He believes that researchers have much to learn about how public organizations actually use research, and that courses such as this is a good meeting place for this kind of knowledge exchange.
He highlights that the OSIRIS researchers themselves are committed to having their research being put to use.
«This kind of direct interaction provides us with an opportunity to present research results and advanced perspectives. In addition, all participants were asked to provide one concrete case in which research was used in their work. Which means that we now have heard cases from eight ministries and six other public organizations; this knowledge is useful both in our research and in further developing this course. »
Future course dates
The course will likely be held again in 2020, and the valuable input and feedback from the first group of participants will be used to make an even better and more tailor-made event. Interested in participating? Sign up for the bi-annual OSIRIS Newsletter for information on future course dates and other events.