The DRUSSA programme has been working with academic institutions and government departments in Ghana and Uganda in order to link the supply and demand side of Research Uptake. This is being done through symposia, professional development courses and a Fellowship scheme which places academics in government departments, allowing in-house government access to research expertise. Dr James Atta Peprah (from the Microfinance Unit in the Department of Economics at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana) participated in the Fellowship scheme and worked with the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He shared some of his experiences with us.
"I also took part in Credit Policy deliberations which are ongoing at the Ministry. Credit issues are one of my research areas so I was able to make significant inputs to the document (still ongoing). My contributions were very much appreciated."
Tell us about the activities that you initiated working in the department
At the Ministry, I have had several consultation with the staff. First I took part in stakeholders deliberations to draft the Ghana Sugar Policy during which I offered a lot of suggestions and inputs into the policy document. For example I made recommendations on the fact that the local people should be strongly involved in the activities. I reviewed similar documents that exist from other countries to improve the policy document.
I also took part in Credit Policy deliberations which are ongoing at the Ministry. Credit issues are one of my research areas so I was able to make significant inputs to the document (still ongoing). My contributions were very much appreciated.
I also spent time developing a paper entitled Academic research and policy gap: What might be going wrong? The paper is based on interviewsconducted to solicit views on why policy makers do not, or find it difficult to use academic research findings in their work. Two sets of questionnaires were developed for policy makers and academic researchers from selected public universities. The Ministry was much involved in the data collection for the paper.The items in the questionnaire focused on perceived problems that policy makers face in using research findings for policy formulation. A brief will be prepared from the peer reviewed paper to share with the Ministry, with the assistance from the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute STEPRI – CSIR (the implementation agency of the Fellowship scheme in Ghana).
Do you feel overall that there was an acknowledgement that academic research can play a role in the policy making process, and what have you learned about the ways in which researchers can present their information in more usable ways?
My Department at the University is thinking about how to collaborate with the Ministry in terms of policy oriented research. You have to note that the Provost of my College endorsed my working with the Ministry. There are plans to establish long-term relationship with the Ministry so that at the end of my Fellowship another Faculty member can be placed. In fact involving the students in the research I am currently doing at the Ministry has also benefited the students a lot and I hope to access data from the Ministry to be used by students in my department at the University.
"In order for academic research findings to be relevant for policy, they should be written up in plain language and should be free from ‘jargon’. What policy makers need is recommendations that are relevant to the issues under consideration."
Policy makers are of the view that academic research findings are usually based on theoretical assumptions. In their view, in general, research findings do not really reflect the reality of what policy makers at the Ministries have to consider. Policy makers tend not to understand the ‘language’ of academia. In order for academic research findings to be relevant for policy, they should be written up in plain language and should be free from ‘jargon’. What policy makers need is recommendations that are relevant to the issues under consideration.
What is the general feeling amongst policy makers that you have come across about the role of research in the policy process as well as the role that they would like universities to play in the research/policy arena?
Policy makers see the need for using academic research findings in the policy formulation and implementation processes. The major problem has always been the ‘gap’. The gap emanates from several sources. For example, the policy makers do not know the kind of research that the academic staff of Universities are conducting. Conversely, the academic staff do not also know the kind of research that policy makers are interested in, and this creates the mismatch between the academic research findings and policy making. Another major issue is the way research findings are communicated to the policy makers. The policy maker may find it difficult to understand results which may (in the case of economic research) be full of econometric regressions. They would like universities to do research that is relevant and accessible.
If you were asked to identify two or three challenges that face universities in engaging with policymakers what would they be?
There are a host of challenges but let me mention just three. Among the key challenges is access to empirical data from the Ministries. It is sad to note that ministries are not always comfortable to give out empirical data to be used for research.
Politics and policy implementation cannot be delinked. Policy makers are more often than not having to satisfy politicians in terms of their work. For that matter they are influenced more by politicians more than those in the academia. As a result they sometimes see no need to think about findings of academic research thus making academic research findings uptake very low.
Finally, academics generally perceive that the focus of academic research, as I found out in my research, is not to feed into policy per se but for academic progression. The dominate notion of ‘publish or perish’ in the academia does not really motivate the university academic staff to engage in research for policy unless it is academically rigorous.
Going forward I think universities need to encourage academic staff to engage in policy oriented research and policy briefs for the purposes of their promotion. There should be a policy on data availability from the Ministries to the Universities.
Dr James Atta Peprah is a Senior Lecturer in the Microfinance Unit of the Department of Economics at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana and participant in the DRUSSA Fellowship Programme