2.9 Parameters for the Use of Social Science Research in Public Policy and Practice: Reflections from Research in Education in Kenya
(Paul P. W. Achola)
The ninth paper by Prof. Paul P. W. Achola of Kenyatta University was entitled Parameters for the Use of Social Science Research in Public Policy and Practice: Reflections from Research in Education in Kenya. It contends that for social science research to appreciably influence socio-economic policy and practice, there has to be some interface between the activities of social scientists and those of policy makers and implementers. This interface is likely to involve a wide range of interactions ranging from any particular research projects, data collection arrangements and the writing of the research results to the dissemination of research findings. The author argues that the parameters that will influence the likelihood of any particular science influencing policy and action are ownership of the research and its findings, the language in which the research was written especially its complexities, the modalities of dissemination of the research and the policy-makers' commitment.
The author uses the above parameters to demonstrate the influence or lack of influence on social policy of some landmark researches carried out in Kenya in the field of education, which is an applied social science discipline. The author starts the discussion by pointing out that Kenya has a poorly articulated research policy. The undertaking of research by educational institutions such as the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) and the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST) is done within the context of the rather muted research policy. The author argues further that with hardly any clear policy to guide educational research, the country has witnessed many unguided and unknown projects.
While discussing the prerequisites of enhancing interface between social research and plans of action, the author starts by addressing the issue of research ownership; he stresses that groups which are expected to use the results of social research should from the beginning be involved in the design, formulation and execution of the research projects. In this way, they are likely to feel as being integral parts of the entire research enterprise. Secondly, the author stresses that the dissemination of research findings and recommendations should involve all major stakeholders. Focus should be on the stakeholder at the national, regional, and local levels. In the case of research education, the trajectory should include the Ministry of Education's headquarters and its national organs, the provincial and district educational actors and interest groups at local or zonal levels. A related point has to do with the mode of dissemination, i.e., the medium of technology of communication and the language used. The author suggests that a better impact can be achieved if information is disseminated in written forms and in audiovisual media such as films and videos using direct and simple language.
The thrust of this paper has been that there are examples of a number of social researchers in education that have influence on public policy and practice. While in many instances such influence has been indirect and rather haphazard in time and space, there is no need for social science scholars to display differences about this chain of actions. Finally, the author of the paper gives a proposal regarding ways in which social science researchers can enhance their input in public policy and public action domains. This proposal is primarily intended to stimulate debate on the interface between research and ameliorative action targeting society.
Reacting to Prof. Achola's presentation, the participants thought the paper had adequately addressed the topic of parameters for use in social science research on public policy and practice. It was clear that for social science research to appreciably influence socio-economic policy and practice, there was a need for interface between the activities of social scientists and those of policy makers and implementers. However, the participants questioned how this would practically be achieved on the ground.
Prof. Achola responded by suggesting that serious social scientists need to change their attitude and be more aggressive in their research effort to assert their scholastic prowess and influence policy and practice.