What is the relevance for policy makers of scholars theorising about how the world functions?
There is wide consensus that the academic community and policy makers are now more detached than ever. But there are ways to bridge this gap. Hiski Haukkala – who has worked as a university teacher and research, as a policy analyst at different European research institutes and as a Special Advisor at the Finnish MFA – offers scholars incentives to get out of their ‘ivory tower’ at universities and engage directly at ministries, as critics or advisers (or both), in the decision making process.
Here, I just shortly want to focus on the ways scholars can contribute to the decision making process in governments. Haukkala argues that scholars can be an asset for ministries in three temporal dimensions:
The Past (“Don’t lose your head”) function: Politicians often change their minds and decide to frame issues and policies in novel ways. Scholars can remind politicians of past successes and failures
The Present (“Keep your head down”) function: Scholars, being more detached from the processes of groupthink etc, can think outside of the box, also in current issues.
- The Future (“Head’s up”) function: The level of specific knowledge combined with a certain detachment from the actual policy process give scholars a competitive advantage over policy makers in foreseeing future opportunities or threats.
It is also the scholars who have to be willing to engage more directly with policy makers, and
[o]nly by becoming part of the process that the scholar can in any meaningful sense seek to affect the policy process.
Explaining how academic research can benefit society, using incisive and engaging language in concise, well-designed briefings that can be shared with non-specialist peers and political lords and masters, is a key skill, but lobbying for policy change goes beyond that. It is about patience and persistence and developing long-term relationships, based on trust and respect, with those that have influence in the relevant policy area.