Connecting academics and practitioners to deliver public value

Piles of books
  • Published Date: 14 May 2019

Policy makers need access to robust and high-quality research and evidence when developing new policies and programs. But connecting policy makers to relevant and useful research work in academia remains a significant challenge.

ANZSOG is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge, operating at the interface of public policy practice and academia.ANZSOG is owned by governments, and works for governments, so it has a direct line on what issues are most pressing in contemporary public administration. And ANZSOG’s extensive university networks mean that it can draw on world-renowned across the full range of these issues.

ANZSOG is currently revamping its research program, and has begun consulting with governments and universities about the focus of major research projects. It has committed $750,000 per annum to a new research fund. With matching funding from governments and universities, ANZSOG aims to build a total fund of $1.5-2.25 million --- enabling the development of larger-scale, team-based research projects to investigate some of the most pressing concerns in contemporary public policy and administration.

Dr Subho Banerjee, ANZSOG’s Research Program Director said: “we have listened to feedback that past research projects were too narrow, not sufficiently focused on practice and less likely to effect systemic change.” 

The new research projects - two to three per year - will be demand-led and driven by the key issues and questions on the minds of government and the public service, as identified by our consultations with public sector leaders.

Project teams will be co-funded by ANZSOG, a university and/or a government department, with governance shared accordingly. Each project will be directed by a lead researcher, most likely a senior academic based at a university. A steering committee will be appointed to exercise oversight of each project, comprising senior representatives from each of the funding entities.

Barriers to uptake of research

Professor Paul Boreham, Dr Adrian Cherney and Professor Brian Head from the University of Queensland, have conducted a study which identified a range of issues impeding the uptake of academic research in policy development.

Although academic research is seen as valuable, it is not being used by the majority of staff in policy decision-making.

Among the barriers to research uptake were:

  • The need to translate research into a user-friendly form
  • Academics lacking expertise in communicating their research to policy-makers
  • Difficulties in accessing full-text versions of academic articles and reports
  • Lack of opportunities to build relationships with researchers
  • Pressures of time, political priorities and urgent day-to-day issues taking precedence over long-term thinking
  • Substantial costs in translating research for non-academic users
  • Insufficient forums to bring together researchers with end users.

Colleagues and other federal or state government agencies were cited as the most important sources of research information while internal agency staff were the most frequently consulted source of policy information.

Understanding public sector research needs 

Dr Banerjee said that ANZSOG was working to address those barriers and that academics needed to understand how public servants worked, and the time pressures they faced, as well as the need to build close relationships to have an impact on policy.

“There is a growing awareness of the research policy gap, and a move to do something about it.”

We are interested in pursuing questions with a strong public administration focus and multi-jurisdictional relevance, as part of our broader mandate to work for the governments of Australia and New Zealand.  

For example, a key set of issues already identified relates to trends affecting the future of the public service workforce, such as big data; commissioning and partnerships; and digital service delivery. 

“The final shape of the projects will depend on input from our government owners, and their views on what are the most pressing challenges they face.”

As part of its mission to strengthen the practice of public management in Australia and New Zealand, ANZSOG is also helping to disseminate research to public managers through a research partnership with The Mandarin.

This involves a fortnightly e-newsletter, The Drop, and a research brief series. The Drop distils academic and other research into an easy-to-read format that captures the main points and provides suggestions for further reading. It is delivered to subscribers to The Mandarin, with articles published on The Mandarin and ANZSOG websites.