General or specific questions?

Yesterday I sat with a group of colleagues at IFPRI to discuss our plans for supporting the Nigeria Strategy Support Program to better understand how research influences (or doesn’t) agricultural policy making in the country. We want to know this for two reasons:

  1. IFPRI is pretty active in Nigeria and aims at “supporting evidence based policy making”. Thus those in the field want to learn how and where their research can enter the policy processes more effectively (increasing impact of research).
  2. From a more general researcher’s perspective, it is an interesting question to ask: What is the connection between knowledge production and decision-making (stand-alone research question)?

As agriculture is a diverse field and IFPRI is engaged in researching it from all different angles and sub-sectors, it would be great to find the magic bullet and be able to explain, how – in general – research impacts on policy making. But if you think about it in a bit more detail, you realize that this answer would be so general that basically I could draw the map in my own office in a half an hour without ever having been to Nigeria. It would be as useful as a global map is when you try to navigate through a specific country. Or let’s say the statement: Most German towns have a church and a market square in their middle. That does give you some kind of orientation, some basic idea what to look for, but that’s about it.

So even though it might sound counter-intuitive: If you want to understand how knowledge in general enters the policy process, you have to look at specific cases or specific fields where that happened.

Apart from this scale issue and the problems of generalization, there is another issue that I experienced when going to the field: The more general your question, the easier it is for your interview partners to tell you how it should be instead of how it really is. So if the question is very general, you will get a general picture of what the formal rules and hierarchies are (something you could get from reading documents) but there is no point where you can hook in the more probing questions: So how exactly did this information get from here to there? Who was the one who took this decision? Was there ever a disagreement about the course of action? What happened?

One Response

  1. I have enjoyed the post.It emerged from the practical understanding of the field situation.I believe this content will be helpful for the policy makers and researchers worldwide.
    Best luck to all concerned.

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