Brain power

Do policy makers use the latest academic research?

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

The desire for policy to be constructed based upon the latest and greatest evidence is an obvious one, and yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that modern politics derides expert opinion, and instead is constructed emotively and on the hoof.

New research1 from Columbia Business School explores whether political leaders are interested in, and use research findings in both adjusting their own mental model and the policies that flow from that.

The researchers conducted a couple of experiments in partnership with the National Confederation of Municipalities in Brazil.  In total, this involved over 2,100 municipalities and the individual mayors that rule over them.  The researchers gauged the demand from each mayor for the latest research, and how often their beliefs changed after being presented with research on particular policies.

In the first of these experiments, the data showed that policymakers were indeed updating their beliefs, after research was presented on the Early Childhood Development (ECD) program in operation in the country.  The research provided data on the impact of the program on the target audience.

Evidence-based policy making

This willingness to update one’s beliefs in the face of new evidence was especially strong among those with a university education, but there was also a greater willingness to do so when the evidence was high quality.  For instance, when the sample was large, this had a big impact, as did the location of the study, with research conducted in regions similar to Brazil more influential.

The second experiment saw a group of mayors invited to attend a research information session, which included a presentation on a policy tool that would send reminder letters to taxpayers encouraging them to pay their taxes correctly.  At the end of the session, the officials were given a policy brief summarizing the information contained in the session.  The results of this showed that there was a 33% increase in the likelihood that officials would implement the policy after attending the session.

All of which suggests that policy making may not be a completely lost cause in terms of having a robust evidence base behind it, but it’s undoubtedly a battle that needs to be constantly fought to ensure that remains the case.

Article source: Do Policy Makers Use The Latest Academic Research?

Header image source: Rational Parliament on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.



  1. Hjort, J., Moreira, D., Rao, G., & Santini, J. F. (2019). How research affects policy: Experimental evidence from 2,150 brazilian municipalities (No. w25941). National Bureau of Economic Research.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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