Conceptual framework for how public institutions generate and use knowledge / Intra and inter-relationships 1

[Editor’s note: This post is part a series produced by Vanesa Weyrauch and Leandro Echt from Politics&Ideas to present the conceptual framework and is implications developed under the project “Going beyond ‘Context matters”, supported by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP).]


We have focused our first and second posts of the series on the first dimension: the macro-context, which comprises the overarching forces at the national level that establish the “bigger picture” in which policy is made. In this post and the following one, we will center our attention on the second dimension: inter and intra-relationships with other stakeholders. Still part of the macro context, these are two particular types of relationship that exert significant influence over how knowledge interacts (or not) with policy. One is related to internal relationships between the public institution and other related government agencies. The second one relates to the interaction with relevant users and producers of knowledge who can affect or be affected by policy design and implementation.

Courtesy of st4nd3l at under CC

Courtesy of st4nd3l at under CC

Let us delve first into the intra-relationships with other State stakeholders. Each public agency interacts with different public agencies and levels of power. Indeed, as the inter-relationships of different public policies becomes more evident (i.e. the need to link education with social welfare and health), the need of coordination and strengthened collaboration among ministries, levels of jurisdictions and levels of power increases.

Within this picture, there are five sub-dimensions that appear as more relevant to the potential of better generating and using knowledge for policy: the flow of information between jurisdictions and levels, the degree of capacity for use evidence in different sections and departments, the support from governmental agencies that produce data and research, the coordination among agencies and the policy domains.  We will briefly describe them next.

  1. Flow of information between jurisdictions and levels

This is usually more complex in those countries with federal government structures. In the latter, national agencies’ access to information generated by local agencies and vice versa is often limited by the degree of political affinity or distance between parties. There are also horizontal challenges: different national government agencies tend to share more or less information depending on their political affinity.

  1. Degree of capacity for use evidence in different sections and departments

Some sections and departments may count among them high-level researchers and significant budgets while others may seriously lack expertise. Policymakers may also be less willing to use research that they were not involved with from the start, or that comes from other agencies; engaging with policymakers at all stages of research production could, then, help overcome limited capacity or willingness to use research.

Another challenge is that sometimes research design and/or outputs are not directly linked to the policy agenda; some research works are commissioned for a different purpose and may not necessarily have been translated into a possible solution for a particular policy problem. This sometimes makes it more difficult for policymakers in other institutions to access, understand and use it.

  1. Support from governmental agencies that produce data and research

Concrete support from other governmental agencies is also vital. This does not only mean whether there is an internal knowledge infrastructure –which we explore more deeply in the dimension “Other Resources”– but also the level and depth of interaction and trust between the government institution and other governmental bodies such as national research and science councils, institutes of statistics and policy analysis, and strategy and planning units, departments and directorates, etc.

Whether these relationships are hierarchical or horizontal, rigid or flexible, etc. will influence how relevant knowledge is shared and produced. In fact, institutional silos can limit access to research and evidence use; government departments do not always have automatically free access to evidence generated by such agencies. 

  1. Coordination among agencies

In some situations, a lack of coordination between agencies can significantly deter sharing of research. For example, in Indonesia a study in 2010 detected a vacuum of planning and coordination of government research and a lack of coordination between agencies. Regulations for managing and evaluating civil servants meant that specialist staff who should be at the centre of policy formulation were divorced from decision making, and had few incentives to produce work that was useful for government purposes (Sherlock and Djani, 2015).

Simultaneously, as coordination is demanded in policymaking where integral approaches (for example, social protection) are fostered, “co-production” of knowledge with different government departments and also with other research institutions, and trans-disciplinary research will have increasing windows of opportunity.

Some interviewees also highlighted the potential “spread effect”: if other public agencies note that similar institutions are successful or have good reputation in the media due to how they publish their data, they are encouraged to imitate them.

  1. Policy domains

Last but not least, policy domains also account for differences in how government institutions interact and do or do not share knowledge. For example, a study of 883 policymakers in Canada found that those working in municipal and regional affairs, public works and public infrastructure had the lowest level of knowledge utilization while those working in the policy domains of social services, health and social security had the highest levels of knowledge utilization (Landry et al, 2003). Therefore, it is important to be aware how the production and use of knowledge is already developed and embedded in a specific policy domain or not. This is of course related to some sub-dimensions of the macro context such as knowledge regimes and the degree of participation and consultation with other stakeholders.

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