Researchers and representatives of social partners and public bodies came together at the second UNTANGLED expert workshop for a candid discussion of their experiences commissioning, using and absorbing research, and recommending ways to make it easier for policymakers to use the results.
The event, titled “Data and knowledge sources: how to put the evidence to work?” and organised by ZSI, was held on 21 and 22 September in Vienna and began with a look into a series of research methodologies and examples to explore their practical uses. Fabrizio Pompei (University of Perugia) presented a study on “Managerial practices and their effects on productivity”, and Irina Vana (Austrian National Public Health Institute) and Nela Šalamon (ZSI) discussed “Building and using indicators for gender equality” in the city of Vienna. Mikkel Barslund (KU Leuven) explored the expectations and limitations of mobilising expertise and experience to achieve societal impact through research.
Continuing the theme, Ursula Holtgrewe (ZSI) looked into the possibilities for comparative case studies to understand trends in various institutional and organisational contexts, and presented work in progress from Project UNTANGLED. Martina Pezer (Institute of Public Finance, HR), Maja Jandrić (University of Belgrade) and Robert Stehrer (wiiw) presented possible formats for interaction between policy and research. On the next day, Ann Coenen (FOD Werkgelegenheid, Arbeid en Sociale Overleeg, Belgium), Viktor Fleischer (Industriellenvereinigung, Austria), and Michael Soder (Austrian Chamber of Labour) reflected on public bodies’ and social partners’ experience in commissioning dedicated research and identifying relevant insights.
Constraints on such interactions lie in the specific logic of the research and policy systems. Specialisation directs researchers and scientific journals towards “depth” and details, while limited data availability and timeliness often hinder the development of solid evidence. On the policy side, while some research fills an immediate need (such as microsimulations of taxes and benefits), other data and analyses translate into recommendations less easily. Also, commissioning research or showcasing indicators may take the place of actual policy efforts: demonstrating awareness of inequalities, for example, is certainly easier than finding viable ways of redressing them. Participants agreed that open-ended and curiosity-driven research remains indispensable to provide the grounds on which more targeted and application-oriented research can build. Research formats that directly address policy and practice, such as policy evaluations, can also initiate further exchange beyond delivering immediate results.
Presenting “readable results” requires dedicated formats and some know-how, which in many academic contexts remains unrecognised. While media provide enormous support for disseminating results, they also exert their own pressures for quick, simple figures that may obscure more subtle insights. Informal contacts and meetings (or even “safe spaces”) provide good opportunities to exchange views and mutually adjust expectations. Successful interactions require skilled people, dedicated spaces and times, and recognition of the specifics of various research, policy and practice fields, as well as patience and persistence.