Making 'Impact Factor' Impactful: Universities, Think Tanks and Policy Research in Pakistan

Making 'Impact Factor' Impactful: Universities, Think Tanks and Policy Research in Pakistan

Publication details

  • Tuesday | 30 Jun, 2015
  • Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Muhammad Arif Naveed
  • Research Reports,Project Publications
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Arif Naveed and Abid Q. Suleri
 
Introduction
 
Today’s Pakistan faces complex development challenges at all fronts requiring sophisticated policy responses. Amidst this complexity is the ongoing democratic transition creating new demands for transparency, accountability and informed decision-making. These demands are multiplied by devolution under the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 resulting in provincial autonomy and multiplying the actors in the arena of policymaking. The need for a context-specific knowledge-base has thus increased manifold during the recent years. In contrast to this escalated need, the provision of knowledge for public policymaking appears inadequate and is marred with serious institutional challenges. At the core of these challenges is an overall weak research capacity, an alleged culture of disregard for evidence in decisionmaking and somewhat declining in-house capacities of policy makers to engage with research and analysis (Ikram 2011; Wood 2013).
 
The existing literature indicates that the frequency and intensity of political, social, and natural occurrences often outpace the capacity of policy discourse generated in the country to cope with, understand, respond to, and shape these developments in the future (Fiaz 2012; Naveed 2013a). Policy interventions in the absence of a vibrant discourse tradition, therefore,
generally lack the required social consensus, which on the one hand undermines the success of such interventions, and on the other, creates a culture of ex-post analysis and crisis-driven responses instead of careful forecasts and prepared strategies. The ineffectiveness and insufficiency of policy discourses to precede interventions and events, therefore, merit a
systematic analysis of the challenges that surround the formal knowledge systems supporting public policies. This gains particular importance in the wake of a scarce existing understanding of the ways various actors in research provision interact with each other and participate in policy processes.
 
Providers of policy research clearly have a critical role in Pakistan’s overall development process and democratisation through their contribution towards improving transparency and accountability. The available literature on research providers focuses on the overall state of social sciences as the key determinant of research capacities (Inayatullah, Saigol and Tahir 2005; Zaidi 2002; Khattak 2009), the institutional dynamics of the providers of policy research (Naveed 2013a), and their relationship with the consumers of research, i.e. policy makers (Wood 2013;). Such literature highlights that due to historic, ideological, political and cultural reasons, and as a consequence of weak disciplinary and methodological training at most universities in Pakistan, social science based knowledge produced in the country is not just low in quantity but is also of poor quality. 
 
Studies landscaping the key actors in policy research in Pakistan show that the number of active providers of policy research is fewer compared to the complexity of policy needs. Notwithstanding the recently devolved context of policymaking, research providers are geographically clustered in Islamabad and Lahore (Naveed 2013a). 3 The landscape predominantly consists of non-government entities with a virtual absence of the public sector. The scarce engagement of universities in addressing questions raised by policy needs,
despite a dramatic improvement in the higher education sector over the last fifteen years, appears paradoxical.
 
The available political economy analysis of research and its uptake into policies demonstrates the pitfalls associated with the overwhelming reliance of policy research on external donors (Wood 2013). There is a growing realisation amongst key stakeholders that the exclusive reliance of policy research on a financially vulnerable non-government sector results in research priorities influenced by international donor agencies, and has its own challenges.4 It is observed that often uncoordinated projects, reflective of deeper problems of international aid, fragment the core development narratives into uncoordinated and at times incoherent discourses with implications for the uptake of such research into policies (ibid.).
 
Such research highlights another concern that the current models of technical, financial and strategic support to policy research can potentially push the resource deficient and politically less engaged traditional knowledge providers, universities, further away from the locus of influence. These challenges necessitate a serious rethinking of the funding paradigms and
modalities to bring the relatively autonomous research actors into their active role of solving the problems faced by society. However, efforts to engage universities with policy processes in the current policy contexts imply bringing them closer to other key actors contributing to policy discourses. There is thus a need to understand the ways both groups of institutions are currently positioned in the landscape of policy research and the ways they are engaged with each other.