Grand challenge "Translating research results into policy actions and support"

Brief abstract motivating, and underlying gaps grounding the grand challenge

eGovPoliNet has identified a significant gap between research on ICT-supported public governance and policy modelling and the practise of public policy making. A structural problem of academia (phenomenon of “lost before translation”) hinders researchers’ engagement with policy practice since academia is expected to teach, conduct research and to deliver the results in scientific papers. Accordingly, in many cases a lack of incentives exists for researchers to engage with practitioners in translating research findings into practice. On the other hand, practitioners often do not recognise the value of research findings as assets that may help them overcome policy problems. The value propositions of the distinct actors do not match. Another gap is that these actors usually do not speak the same language (phenomenon of “lost in translation”) and do not use the same publishing channels: while researchers need to write well-grounded rigorous publications to get their work published in scientific publication outlets, policy-makers need short management summaries in a different language and through channels to reach out to their constituency. Policy operators and citizens need to be served with yet another way of presenting research results and policy outcomes. Different levels of construction and interest have to be fostered: research papers and publishing channels vs. practitioner interests and media channels. Yet, who acts as translator? In addition, risk-averseness of policy-makers towards untested innovation and creativity potentially bringing negative results can prevent investments in innovative research.

Ineffective transformation processes from ground-breaking innovation research to application and marketization in practice represent another gap in this grand challenge. Many valuable innovations and findings of research remain within the academic discipline and end up in bookshelves without further consideration of being translated into practical use. Moreover, sometimes the added value of findings in one discipline need to be detected by another discipline before bringing the value of the findings to society. More multidisciplinary research, and research conducted in collaboration with practice, needs to be furthered in policy making research to spur collaboration for better translating research findings into actionable policy practices.

Challenges to be faced, formulated along a set of research questions

The following set of research questions indicates challenges that need to be addressed in this grand challenge to make a more effective, efficacious and efficient translation of scientific results from research to policy practice possible (and vice versa, to better convey research challenges of policy practice into the academic world):

  • How to transform research results into practical use in everyday policy decision-making; how to overcome the phenomenon of “lost before translation” and strengthen collaboration among research and policy practice in order to diffuse scientific findings into policy practice and to bring back needs of research and insights from policy practice into scientific research. The added value of collaborations across academia and policy practice needs to be made more explicit and recognition of knowledge transfer from academia to policy practice needs to become a recognised and valuable part of academic career development
  • How to overcome the phenomenon of “lost in translation” between research and practice, i.e. how to facilitate collaboration through a common language (or intermediaries serving as “translators”) and through joint communication channels. Three actor groups have to be targeted with distinct communication channels and writing style: Academic publishers and Universities (who need to write well elaborated and scientifically grounded rigorous publications, which are not necessarily targeted to the practice community) – Policy-makers (who need management summaries and policy briefs as their time is often very limited; such policy briefs must be clear, convincing, interesting and short to be accepted by policy-makers) – Policy practitioners (who need actionable reports, guidance, documentation and evidence of practical results)
  • How to improve the mass media’s ability to utilise experts/expertise and to make evidence-based criticisms/defending, or arguments/counter-arguments, on public policies; given the growing populist mood, the press is and will be wielding its influence on what it broadcasts and publishes about in democracies. Translating research results into policy is not just a research utilisation issue, but also an issue of democratic learning in society – how can democratic learning in society be supported to become more effective and faster
  • How to make the transformation process from research and innovation trials to real practice more effective and how to measure the wider impact of collaborative policy modelling efforts in both academia and policy practice; how to sustain the use of research and innovation projects‘ outcomes over time (in both worlds)
  • How to reduce the risk-averseness of policy-makers towards innovation and creativity and how to turn the perception of research findings that might not be positive into insights that bring value to policy-makers
  • How to overcome the stereotype perception of single-disciplinary research focus being the only successful path for academic careers. Currently, diversity of disciplines in policy making hampers collaboration, yet we need to change this stereotype perception and foster more multidisciplinary research, supported by overcoming diversities in languages, approaches and expectations of performance
  • How to support a better understanding of policy practice and society that collaboration and ICT-supported policy modelling can have a positive impact on policy practice, government performance and society and their attitudes of working together in policy development and assessment. This process of transition needs to be accompanied by academic research; accordingly, the value propositions of the distinct actors need to be fulfilled

    The challenges identified above are of different natures such as related to structure, to governance and to content. All of these challenges need to be dealt with to better translate research findings into policy practice.

    Innovations and wider impact expected when tackling the research demands

    Overcoming deficiencies of translating innovative research into policy practice will add public and economic value in regards to policy modelling to societies. Better appreciation of academic researchers working in collaboration with practitioners will spur a new wave of research driven innovation and bring appreciation to researchers of this type for their academic career.

    A changed culture of researchers and practitioners, in which both speak a common language and appreciate contributions of the other side, facilitates collaboration and enables better translation of research findings into practice. The mass media plays an important role in communicating complex policy results to the wider citizenship and hence contributes to democratic learning in society.

    Also, the appreciation of multidisciplinary research enables a new generation of multidisciplinary thinkers to grow, and this group brings forward many new innovations that build on research theories and methods from different disciplinary grounds, combining qualitative and quantitative research methods and the constructive approaches of ICT research to capture adequately the complex environment organisations operate in on policy domains and thus increasing transferability from academia to policy practice. This approach fosters a better handling of social problems and hence more reliable and trustworthy policy modelling results in both, academic and practice outlets.

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