Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Measuring Policy Impact of University Research

Greetings from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra. Paul Harris is speaking on "Pathways to policy impact". ANU and CSIRO are collaborating to look at how the research which is undertaken at a university contributes to the development of government policy. The ANU and CSIRO between them spend more than $2B of public money on research each year, so they are obliged to look at if this expenditure is providing a benefit to the public. Paul pointed out there is much informal interaction between researchers and government people, so clearly it is having an impact. There are some attempts to document this, especially in CSIRO, but this could be done more systematically. Paul pointed out that as CSIRO is a government body, the researchers have more direct access to internal policy processes in government. In contrast ANU as a university does not have as direct access (alto ugh there is less formal consultations made through those of us at the ANU who are former public servants). Paul also suggests that researcher should consider the possible impact of proposed research. The UK Research Councils have done some work on "Pathways to Impact". It occurs to me that this work could benefit from the work done on teaching commercialization to researchers, through projects such as "Innovation ACT". Impact on government policy would then be just one way the results of research could be turned into a useful result. Many of the skills developed in innovation courses would also apply to policy, covering IP issues, how to prepare and present a proposal. Paul gave the example of the US "SPARC Usable Science A Handbook for Science Policy Decision Makers". He pointed out that the process of research to policy is not necessarily linear: instead there is two way interaction between researchers and policy makers. Paul asked the interesting question of the role of science of the public service policy cycle. I suggest this raises a more interesting question about what the actual policy development process is in government and what it should be. My experience of working for government was that there was no workable policy development process: policies had to be developed in secret, as a draft policy could be used by your enemies. Paul touched on this by suggesting that the political impact of research needs to be considered.

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