When my husband Roger Scott was invited to chair the TJ Ryan Foundation by the Leader of the Opposition and I was invited to become the Foundation's Research Coordinator it offered the opportunity for us to make an attempt to bridge the gap between researchers and policymakers.
One of our TJ Ryan Foundation Board members, Professor Paul Boreham, together with Professor Brian Head and colleagues at the University of Queensland have recently reported the results of a study they carried out on the use made of social science research in policy development and program review. Their ARC-funded research project involved an Australia-wide survey of academic researchers and public sector agencies. They found that nearly half the respondents agreed with the perception that academics do not make enough effort to disseminate their research to policymakers or practitioners. 44% agreed that academics did not initiate contact with policymakers. 52% reported the lack of opportunity to build relationships with academic researchers outside the public service.
Academic research findings are often hidden behind ‘pay-walls’. Roger and I were first made aware of this in 2010 when my nephew, Tim Gowers, a Cambridge mathematician, launched a massively supported online campaign against the restrictions imposed by major journal publishers through the construction of pay-walls. People could not get access to journals carrying research reports unless they were scholars attached to a well-funded university. This damaged the capacity of authors to achieve easily accessible distribution of their work, as well as making access difficult for the potential users of that research.
The problem was illustrated to us when Roger and I ran a policy-making course, funded by AusAid, for public servants from the Pacific Islands. We introduced them to the University of Queensland library, after which the participants spent all their spare time downloading journal articles, because their home libraries could not afford the costs imposed by publishers.
We hope the TJ Ryan Foundation can enhance the relationship between researchers and policy- makers in Queensland, whether in government or in opposition. The Research Associates include ex-public servants as well as academics. A number of us have been both.
Unlike most other think tanks, we are all working ‘pro bono’, and operating on the whiff of an oily rag. So we have to thank Ron Monaghan and Brett Young from the QCU for the ‘in kind’ support they have provided in getting us established as a company, setting up our website, and giving me ‘data entry’ training.
The TJ Ryan Foundation website lists our 60+ Research Associates and Board Members, with contact details and areas of research expertise. All of us hope to contribute to the policy debate in Queensland and fight the scourge of policy-based evidence-seeking, evidence-denial, or decisions based on no evidence at all.
We hope the TJ Ryan Foundation and its website will prove useful to policymakers, to other researchers, and, indeed, to the media and the wider public, as an example of the potential of universities to make a contribution to objective policy analysis.
[Address delivered at the launch of the TJ Ryan Foundation, 27 February 2014]
Dr Scott is now Consulting Editor for the TJ Ryan Foundation.