20 September 2011

How to Increase the Policy Impact of Academic Research

How about letting policy makers read it?
"academics, funded mostly by the public purse, pay for the production and dissemination of academic papers; but for historical reasons, these are published by private organisations who charge around $30 per academic paper, keeping out any reader who doesn’t have access through their institution."(Goldacre, on Monbiot)
It's hard to judge exactly how many people are likely to be affected, but I would bet that there are thousands of people out there who are able to read research, who work in some kind of operational decision-making role, and who might, on occasion, want to do a quick google search and skim the latest relevant academic paper on an issue.

Policy notes and summaries produced by think tanks are fine, but they are costly to produce, and rarely answer the precise specific question that a decision-maker is looking at. There is a parallel here to Owen Barder's arguments about aid transparency - information should be first be made free at source, and we can worry about analysis and presentation later (or rather the market, and enthusiastic amateurs, can).

Even in large institutions it can be difficult - the British Department for Work and Pensions is the largest employer of professional economists in the country - and it does pay for some kind of access, but I do remember it being not quite as easy as from within a university, and wasting time looking for things. Good luck being a US-educated returnee to the civil service in South Sudan.


British student in the US said...

The NIH in the US does have a policy requiring public posting, although there's still a (maximum of a ) 12 month delay. (http://publicaccess.nih.gov/). I wonder if this is linked to ideas that information with a direct impact on health is different to, say, stuff primarily focused on education?  In any case, journal publishers seem to have demured to the NIH for now, although there was a political backlash of sorts (one version of the story: http://scienceprogress.org/2009/04/nih-open-access-policy-turns-1-year-old/).  Hopefully this model can be spread elsewhere over time.

Ruth Stewart said...

To be honest I think research needs to be better packaged and disseminated - In my experience access to academic literature isn't a barrier in itself. I'm an academic working in Universities in London and Joburg and also in UK govt and I suspect I have the greatest impact when I physically take research knowledge (and policy knowledge for that matter) and discuss it face to face with colleagues across the various boundaries I span. I can tell you from experience that providing free access to academic papers to those non-academics I work with won't make the slightest difference as they struggle to see its relevance to their work. The real access issue is in how the research is written up, the language used etc. I'm not sure I'm really very good at it myself, but I think the more people are willing to step out of comfort zones and work across boundaries, the more we can understand access needs and work to really impact policy with our research.

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