Research and Policy-Making: academic policy advice in South Africa

Time frame:
2016 - 2017 / completed

Project description

Political deliberations and decision-making have to consider different social interests - and in their decisions also take into account available knowledge, including on boundaries of the living environment. Consequently, besides communication consultancy ("spin doctors"), academic advice in policy-making gains importance in an increasingly connected and complex world. Beyond communicative "spin", knowledge creation and policy advice based on scientific knowledge becomes increasingly significant in a globally connected world – including for developing countries and especially for globally active emerging markets. The need for academic advice relates to both natural and social science expertise. In conservation policy, for instance, decision-makers have to rely on knowledge of the natural sciences, since policy-making involves complex relationships in ecosystems and (human) globalization. Even supposedly "softer" policy areas based on (social) science, such as foreign and foreign economic policy, increasingly require knowledge production that accompanies the local and national decision-making process and help to understand and manage the increasing number of factors and actors. This is not least so the case with regard to "new" actors in international relations.

South Africa - as a key African economy - is facing great social, economic and political challenges. At the same time, the country is a global player with a diversified and globally connected economy and a highly diverse (and stratified) society; local and global actions are strongly intertwined. Moreover, the country – at least in parts – has a capable and globally connected academic system on which decision-makers can draw. While the need for knowledge creation is evident, the linkage between academic work and national policy-making is less clear and straight-forward. How do demand and supply of knowledge match at country level in the developing world, i.e. what type of input is available? What are (dis)incentives for academic input into policy-making? How do different institutions (universities, NGOs, think tanks) react to demands and gaps in evidence-based policy-making they identify and analyse? The possible linkage between science and policy-making can be both, demand driven or based on a need to provide input from within science. The use of scientific expertise is not necessarily confined to the executive, but potentially also includes civil society actors that underpin their views in the discussion with the government partly by scientific (commissioned) research.

The aim of the Country Working Group is to examine the role of academic and science-based policy advice in South Africa. The levels of analysis include the demand side, in one or more selected policies on the part of government and civil society actors, and the reaction of scientific institutions and think tanks to this demand - or lack thereof. The above examples conservation and dealing with new partners offer a thematic focus and relate to previous professional experience of the LAG-lead. The investigation relates to the role of scientific advice in national policymaking in South Africa, but also has links to sub-national policy. Also the science governance with regard to the "usability" of local knowledge production and the importance of international cooperation with and between think tanks are considered.

The project links to conceptual work at DIE regarding the provision of and quality assurance within policy advice. It also connects to research at DIE with regard to rising powers and work regarding the transformation of international cooperation, as well as discussions on future cooperation with more advanced developing countries (MICs).