Saturday, January 30, 2021

Webinar: "Research for Public Policy: Opportunities for Ireland"

The research for Public Policy seminar series is a joint initiative of the RIA and IRC, aiming to bring diverse expertise together on the subject of evidence-based policy. The webinar on research for public policy on January 27th was one of three webinars in a series, with a discussion paper by Mary Doyle setting the scene for the meeting

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer described this webinar as part of a broader conversation. Professor Ohlmeyer introduced Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science Simon Harris, pointing out the impact of the creation of the new Department in this area. Minister Harris pushed back against the (by now) old saw about people "having heard enough from experts", saying that policymakers are more likely to make mistakes when they don't listen to experts. He suggested that something good can come of the pandemic if research and innovation can take a more active role in society at large, and also mentioned the importance of multiple disciplines and their collaboration. He emphasised the importance of investment in research and innovation. Notwithstanding the pandemic crisis, he recognised we shouldn't just call on research just during times of crisis, but need to engage in long-term planning. He noted that innovation is not just about business, but also about policy; to this end, he mentioned ideas and programs about secondments for researchers into government agencies to allow researchers to be more cognisant of policy and how it gets made and implemented. He mentioned planning a drive for greater engagement between the general public and the research sector, on a greater scale than had previously been seen in Ireland. 

Panel conversation

Professor Jane Grimson (Trinity College Dublin) talked about how policymakers may identify a need but can't find researchers who are willing/able to conduct the required work. However, she suggested that a positive counter-example in health research in Ireland is the Health Research Board, which does a lot of policy-centric work. The bench-to-bedside journey is usually very slowly, but this was accelerated with unprecedented speed due to the pandemic crisis. Funding suddenly became available, policymakers and researchers started communicating more closely, more rapidly and openly, with knowledge being pooled internationally (on this note, she championed the importance of open research, and systematic reviews). But the rapid successes achieved during the pandemic were built on the back of years of slower research, from work on mRNA to methodological advances in epidemiology and data analytics.   

Professor Peter Clinch (University College Dublin) noted that the phrase "we've had enough of experts" often based on a politically-motivated decision that goes against evidence. Professor Clinch said that there is a desire for research findings in Ireland in the UK, but civil servants and researchers are coming with very different approaches, and there needs to be better communication about what different jobs involved. Currently researchers and politicians often don't understand the rather different pressures they face in their careers. He highlighted the importance of investment, both for National Economic Plan and for National Development Plan, and that researchers should present a united front in their requests for greater funding at a broader level. 

A video of the webinar is available on the Royal Irish Academy's youtube channel

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