Evidence-based research is a key pillar in the foundation of public policy. Its impact can be far-reaching and can help inform decisions being made right now.
Bur how can we ensure that research is proactive in addressing ongoing policy concerns? Are there editorial strategies that can be made that can help bring together multiple studies on a single topic to make applying research to policy easier?
We asked Professor John Davis, Editor of Eurochoices, to describe how he determines what’s relevant and timely so that the research published can impact policy effectively.
Q. In your role as Editor-in-Chief of EuroChoices you recently compiled a special section on some potential areas of impact from Brexit. What was the genesis of this section, and why was it important to cover in your journal?
A. The UK government’s White Paper (February 2017) sets out its vision and intentions for a Brexit settlement…” an ambitious and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and a new customs agreement”…but it is not at all clear if this can be achieved. The White Paper contains little detail on the possible shape of a post-Brexit UK agricultural policy (UKAP). As a result there is huge uncertainty within the agri-food sector as to what will happen post-Brexit to trade patterns, farmers’ incomes and food prices etc.
EuroChoices has been covering the Brexit process since the decision to hold a UK referendum on EU membership. A special Brexit section on possible implications for UK agri-food was published in 2016 prior to the referendum; and so following the decision to leave the EU the Editorial Board agreed that, given the core remit of the journal, a special section looking in more detail at Brexit implications for UK and EU agri-food was essential. As negotiations proceed the journal will continue to cover Brexit issues.
Q. What role do you think collections of content, whether in an issue of a journal or compiled digitally to provide context to a central theme, play or should play in current policy discussions?
A.Collections of content on issues such as Brexit and other policy priorities have a key role in providing context to the big policy issues of the day. For me the key aspect of their role is in providing the policy community in the UK and internationally with expert opinion and a rigorous evidence base on which to base policy priorities and choices.
The UK government, the EU Commission and member state governments are committed in varying degrees to an evidence-based approach to policy development. Special issues or sections on key current themes such as Brexit, which bring together experts with differing perspectives, play a very important role.
Q. Can research that addresses current affairs or ongoing policy debates have an impact on the public’s understanding of the issue?
A. Improving the public’s understanding of the issue is a key challenge for the research community, especially for research on the economics of policy and other issues. Economics affects all of us in our daily lives but economic concepts tend to be poorly understood, including at the highest levels in government and industry.
In reporting research results therefore, it is important keep it real. People and stories matter so the emphasis should be on the impacts on actual groups or even individuals. EuroChoices is unique in communicating quite complex economic research findings and viewpoints on agri-food issues to decision makers in accessible language and formats that can be understood by non-technical readers.
Q. What do you, as an Editor-in-Chief, look at in terms of timeliness and relevance of content? How do you predict what research might have policy impact in the future?
A. Getting the timing right and identifying relevant high-quality content are key responsibilities of the Editor, particularly when communicating with the policy community and industry at times of policy change or reform. For a journal such as EuroChoices it is important to be engaged as early as possible in the policy cycle to contribute rigorous evidence and viewpoints as a counter to the pseudo analyses of interest groups with which ministers and their advisers are typically bombarded.
Some policy issues may have been running for a long time, such as reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the debates are quite predictable which can make sourcing of content relatively straight forward, especially where there is a quite large and engaged research community. In trying to identify relevant future impactful research it is important also to be aware of societal challenges and tensions, such as obesity, and the need perhaps for a more integrated agri-food-health policy nexus. EuroChoices has an advisory group consisting of “policy watchers” including members from the EU Commission and the OECD who provide advice to the Editor.