Brain power

Research suggests politicians are keener on experts than we think

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Global issues, such as climate change and Covid, have extensive scientific research into the most effective responses, but it is not always easy to ensure that political leaders follow the science.  Indeed, in recent years, right-wing populist administrations have made much of dismissing the opinions of experts entirely.

Research1 from Columbia Business School offers a glimmer of hope.  It suggests that political leaders are, in fact, interested in the latest research, and are willing to spend time accessing it as they go about their work.

“The whole science eco-system and the idea of enlightened society it is built on assumes that new knowledge influences policy and practice. We were curious as to what extent research actually affects political decisions,” said Professor Hjort. “Through two of experiments, we found that exposing policymakers to new findings can significantly influence the policies they implement in their own communities.”

Research-driven policy

The researchers collaborated with the National Confederation of Municipalities in Brazil to gain access to the mayors of over 2,000 municipalities to understand how they utilized scientific research in their decision-making.

The analysis revealed that leaders typically value access to things such as impact evaluations, and are open to updating their beliefs when research points them in a new direction.

In experiments, the leaders were offered new findings for a certain price, with the findings framed as offering significant insights into decisions that were important and relevant to them.  The results suggest that there was a clear demand for accessing this research, with the leaders eager to learn the findings.

What’s more, when the leaders were revisited a year afterwards, the researchers found that they were 10% more likely to have enacted decisions related to the research they were exposed to, which in this case was related to how they could increase tax revenue by sending reminder letters.

“Our research offers some hope in a time when humanity can no longer thrive without good policy choices. When Brazilian politicians were exposed to new findings, they were able to use the new research, ” the researchers conclude. “We hope that our findings hold true more generally and that the fight against climate change, future pandemics, and global poverty can be knowledge-based.”

Article source: Research Suggests Politicians Are Keener On Experts Than We Think.

Header image source: Markus Spiske on Unsplash.


  1. Hjort, J., Moreira, D., Rao, G., & Santini, J. F. (2021). How research affects policy: Experimental evidence from 2,150 Brazilian municipalities. American Economic Review, 111(5), 1442-80.
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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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