The gap be­tween re­search and pol­icy

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE -

AGAINST THE back­drop of the usual noise as­so­ci­ated with po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, a se­ri­ous mes­sage may have been missed this week when the GraceKennedy Foun­da­tion re­newed its com­mit­ment to re­search work at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies. The foun­da­tion funds re­search ac­tiv­i­ties through the Carlton Alexan­der Chair in Man­age­ment Stud­ies and the James Moss-Solomon Chair in En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of GraceKennedy, Se­na­tor Don We­hby, said the UWI must be known as a cen­tre for so­lu­tions and a leader in pro­mot­ing in­no­va­tion and in­no­va­tive think­ing.

In­creas­ingly, so­ci­ety is look­ing to ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, like the UWI, to use their enor­mous hu­man re­sources to bend the curve of tech­nol­ogy in the 21st Cen­tury and de­liver greater op­por­tu­ni­ties for eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

As Ja­maica faces chal­lenges in so­cial jus­tice, health, agri­cul­ture, cli­mate change and other ar­eas rel­e­vant to na­tional de­vel­op­ment, it is im­per­a­tive that new re­search be un­der­taken to find ways of mit­i­gat­ing the im­pact of these chal­lenges on so­ci­ety. These decades-old ob­sta­cles throw up nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties for aca­demics to demon­strate the reach and im­pact their work can have.

Re­search is an ex­pen­sive busi­ness and will not flour­ish with­out ap­pro­pri­ate and con­sis­tent fund­ing. Most of the re­search in ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions comes from ex­ter­nal sources, in­clud­ing phil­an­thropic or­gan­i­sa­tions and pri­vate­sec­tor en­ti­ties. For these in­vestors, it is as­sumed that they would be keen to mea­sure the suc­cess of their in­vest­ment by ef­fec­tive out­comes.

The re­sults of such re­search can­not just be dis­played dur­ing ex­hi­bi­tions at a des­ig­nated time each year. This new knowl­edge gath­ered through re­search must be used in pol­icy de­vel­op­ment. The re­sults of re­search are crit­i­cal in in­flu­enc­ing de­vel­op­ment of pol­icy, help­ing to shape leg­is­la­tion, and even to al­ter be­hav­iours that are found to be detri­men­tal to the com­mon good.

UN­DER­STAND­ING SCIENCE

It may take some con­vinc­ing to get politi­cians to un­der­stand the science be­hind the re­search work, and even harder to get new pol­icy im­ple­mented. How­ever, we now have a min­is­ter of science and tech­nol­ogy in Dr An­drew Wheat­ley, who has qual­i­fi­ca­tions in bio­chem­istry and chem­istry and is a re­search sci­en­tist.

It may, there­fore, be left to him to work with the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity to con­vey the idea of re­search­based ev­i­dence by demon­strat­ing to his par­lia­men­tary col­leagues how the find­ings were tested, de­bated and re­viewed be­fore achiev­ing con­sen­sus.

Re­cent pro­nounce­ments by Dr Wheat­ley that Ja­maica is not lag­ging in sci­en­tific re­search have been chal­lenged by a let­ter writer to The Gleaner. The reader, who de­scribes him­self as a Jamaican with a sci­en­tific back­ground, who has left the is­land to pur­sue op­por­tu­ni­ties over­seas, de­cried the fact that “large-scale in­vest­ment in sci­en­tific re­search is lack­ing”.

He suggested that there needs to be a sci­en­tific re­search cul­ture in Ja­maica. He lamented the lack of fund­ing as one rea­son why per­sons pas­sion­ate about science have be­come dis­cour­aged.

CRIT­I­CAL STEPS

It is in­deed a fact that for the coun­try’s re­search to serve the com­mu­nity well and com­mand global at­ten­tion fund­ing, it is crit­i­cal to pro­vide qual­i­fied aca­demics and pro­cure equip­ment and in­fra­struc­ture to fa­cil­i­tate their work.

Tra­di­tion­ally, pol­i­cy­mak­ers tend to be heav­ily in­flu­enced by what is pop­u­lar rather than ev­i­dence-based re­search, and this is why re­search­in­formed ev­i­dence is not as­signed the place of im­por­tance it de­serves in pol­i­cy­mak­ing. It is time to bridge that sub­stan­tial gap be­tween re­search and pol­icy.

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