Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Integrating Science and Politics in Development Policy


The uses of science in the development practice to influence policy have been discussed since the beginning of the rise of development issue. In 1936, or thirteen years before Truman’s speech about the role of the west on international development (Haslam, Schafer and Beaudet 2012: 5), Rutherford (1936: 865-869) wrote an article entitled Science in Development which explained the importance of science and research findings especially on nature and health issues to development.

The debate on policy is often about relationship between science and policy as an important issue in evidence-based policy and practice (Choi 2005). On the other hand, development is a very complex business which should not be isolated from the political dynamic because in fact politics also plays important role in shaping development policy as all development agenda will involve political strategies, interests and relations (Therien 2004; Court and Young 2006; Unsworth 2011). Unfortunately, these two important entities – science (or evidence) and politics (or ideology) – are at opposite poles and not easy to be matched (PIPSC 2010).

This article aims to identify and discuss various conceptual aspects of the role, challenges and innovations in integrating science and politics in development policy especially in the real world development practice at international and national levels. In doing so, this paper will be divided into four parts: First, the importance of science in development policy; second, the importance of politics in development policy; third, science and politics interfaces including their challenges and innovation; and fourth, conclusion.

The importance of science in development policy

Mitchell (2012) argues that to ensure the success of sustainable growth and development, science will play critical roles even when the issue of robustness and level of certainty of the science still arise. In addition, Miro and Potter (1980: 421) argue that social science research produces knowledge and understanding that will help us make a better world by improving social conditions. Supporting this contention, Haines and Haynes (as cited by Choi 2005) states that Science-based policy will produce high-quality scientific evidence for the basis of the decision making process. Example of this is the research on population in early 1980s significantly made influences into the decision making process within government or other area of political life and lead to ameliorative change into better policies (Miro and Potter 1980: 421)

In 2006, Mohammad Yunus in his Nobel lecture pointed out the importance of science and technology in the development and he also believes that by using and maximising the use of technology, lives of the poor people will improve and at the end they can meet their needs. His contention is based on the facts that information and communication technology (ICT) is dramatically changing the world and makes everything borderless (Yunus 2006). Moreover, Bastion and Unwin (2008: 54-55) state that ICTs have played a central and crucial role in the process of globalisation and also meet the needs of those in power such as business and world’s dominant states to increase their control in economy.

The importance of politics in development policy

In addition to the importance of science, politics also takes central part in development policy. Leftwich (2000: 4-17) states that the central and dominant variable in development is their politics. He bluntly states that the very idea and even the definition of development is political. This contention is based on two main reasons: First, development is not technical process but it is a political process. Second, in the politics of development, there will be always debates and arguments from different actors with different values and interests to ensure that their preferences being adopted in the particular development strategies (Leftwich 2000: 17-18).   

Supporting Leftwich’s idea above, Court and Young (2006: 86) argue that in international development context, the cycle of policy process and the implementation of research are all political processes and they are all significantly shaped by the political context. Moreover, Sen (2000: 3) contends that development is as a process of expanding the real freedom; including political freedom such as participation in public discussion.

Integrating Science and Politics in Development Policy and Practice: 
Challenges and Innovations

Science, politics and policy are interconnected. The most tangible area of intersection between science and policy is the facts that research or scientific knowledge is a very common element of policy making and science often provide solutions to community problems (Hove 2007: 809). Moreover, Hove (2007: 807) also believes that science and policy system have many intersections such as processes, solutions, education, organisations, funding agencies and also actors. The domain of intersection between science, policy and politics such as: contribution of science in shaping political agenda, science policy is driven by political process, policy influence on education sector, influence education on policy, involvement of scientific experts in policy making process and politicisation of issues as result of science (Hove 2007: 814).  

Integrating science and politics in development policy and practice is not simple task as it is not only challenging for developing or under-developed countries but also challenging for many international development organisations and even for some developed countries. Science-based (or often called evidence-based) policy is often competing with political or ideological-based policy. Political interest themselves can be viewed as ideology or ideational and the ideas have major impact on international affairs and development (Therien 2004: 3)

One of the challenges to bringing politics into development agenda is that domestic politics tend to be patronised and oligarchic with fragmented political parties, weak state regulation and enforcement, as well as politicisation of administration (Limpach and Michaelowa 2010: 8). Whereas some of the challenges to put science into the proper place in policy-making are demand-side challenges in enhancing policy capabilities and challenges in ensuring the participation of experts or researchers to engage in policy processes (Edwards and Evans 2011: 9).

Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – a prominent international independent think tank organisation – makes important note that even though the centrality of politics in development is globally acknowledge, but in practice still often ignored (ODI 2002). In line with this statement, Leftwich (2000: 152) finds that although many scholars have stated that politics is important in shaping development policy, in the field of development policy and practice, most of development agencies such as international agencies (like World Bank and IMF), national aid and development ministries have ignored the importance of politics in their analysis and also very rarely employ scientist in political studies.

Another example is the internal condition of the European Union (EU). The biggest and prominent organisation like EU also faces this problem. In 2012, the Scientific Advisory Board was established in the EU to provide link between science and development, but the future of the board is now uncertain because in 2014 the EU decided to separate development and research clusters and they will have their own portfolio (SCIDEV 2014). Many practitioners inside the EU believe that having development and research in different cluster is not strategic and could harm cooperation as this means Europe is also ignoring the crucial links between science or research and foreign policy (SCIDEV 2014). 

On the other side, more and more international organisations realise that putting politics and science back in international development practice and policy is urgent. Responding to this, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) established Research and Policy in Development or RAPID which dedicated to improving the quality of policy by integrating local knowledge and research-based evidence into policy-making[1]. Another example is the joint project between Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Indonesia’s National Planning Development Agency called Knowledge Sector Initiatives (KSI) which aimed at improving the quality of public policies through the use of science, analysis, research and evidence by improving both demand and supply sides (ODI 2013).

The newest example of integration between science and politics in development policy is the development process of Post-2015 Development Agenda as a continuation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Lead by the UN, the process is complex with many parallel events and involving numbers of political leaders, national governments, parliament members, universities, private sectors, NGOs, prominent persons, politicians, experts,  scientists, youth, women, marginalized groups and even people at the grassroots (UN 2013: 1-14).


In conclusion, the importance of science and politics in development policy has been acknowledged globally but there are still many challenges that need to be addressed in the real development practice. The most important action need to be done is improving policy-making process by getting back science and politics in development policy.

By bringing back science into policy-making process, the quality of policies will improve because science and policy interfaces are strengthening each other. Moreover, putting politics into development policy also crucial because policy-making processes will involve political actors, organisations, budget approval and most importantly: political decision. By doing so, the policy will not only improve in quality but also easier to be implemented. This is in line with the argument given by Fay (2007: 400) that policy must be practical, functional, and enforceable. ***

Written by: Agung Wasono (April, 2015)


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Court, J. and Young, J. (2006) ‘Bridging Research and Policy in International Development: An Analytical and Practical Framework’, Development in Practice, Vol 16(1) : 85-90. 

Edwards, M. and Evans, M. (2011) ‘Getting Evidence into Policy-making’, ANZSOG Institute for Governance, available at: http://www.governanceinstitute.edu.au/magma/media/upload/publication/21_Getting-Evidence-into-Policy-makingx.pdf (assessed 22 April 2015)

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Haslam, P., Schafer, J. and Beaudet, P. (2012) Introduction to International Development: Approaches, Actors, and Issues. 2nd edition, Canada: Oxford University Press

Hove, S, D. (2007) ‘A Rationale for Science-Policy Interfaces’, ScienceDirect, Futures 39 : 807-826

Lefwitch, A. (2000) States of Development, Cambridge: Polity Press

Limpach, S. and Michaelowa, K. (2010) ‘The Impact of World Bank and IMF Programs on Democratization in Developing Countries’, Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS), available at: file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/wp62_Limpach_Michaelowa.pdf (assessed 15 April 2015)

Miro, C, A. and Potter, J, E. (1980) ‘Social Science and Development Policy: The Potential Impact of Population Research’, Population and Development Review, Vol 6 (3), available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1972409?uid=3737536&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21106024723651 (assessed 15 April 2015)

Mitchell, T. (2012) ‘Rio+20: Science, Politics and The Challenge of Sustainable Development, Overseas Development Institute, available at: http://www.odi.org/comment/6653-climate-change-policy-science-evidence-rio-sustainable-development (assessed 16 April 2015)

Overseas Development Institute (ODI) (2002) Putting Politics Back into Development: Are We Getting There?, available at: http://www.odi.org/events/2008-putting-politics-back-into-development-getting-there (assessed 15 April 2015)

____________ (2013) Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Pro-Poor Policy: the Knowledge Sector Initiative, available at: http://www.odi.org/projects/2677-australia-indonesia-partnership-pro-poor-policy-knowledge-sector-initiative (assessed 15 April 2015)

____________ (no year) Research and Policy in Development, available at: http://www.odi.org/programmes/rapid (assessed 16 April 2015)

Rutherford, R, H, L. (1936) ‘Science in Development’, Nature, Vol. November: 865-869

Sen, A. (2000) Development as Freedom, New York: Anchor Books

Science Development (SCIDEV) (2014) Europe Risk Dividing Science and Development Policy, avalaible at: http://www.scidev.net/global/cooperation/news/europe-risks-dividing-science-and-development-policy.html (assessed 13 April 2015)

________ (2014) Science Advice for EU Development Policy on Thin Ice, available at: http://www.scidev.net/global/policy/news/science-advice-for-eu-development-policy-on-thin-ice.html (assessed 13 April 2015)

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) (2010) Evidence Vs Ideology in Public Policy, Communication Magazine, Vol 36 (4 Autumn), available at: http://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/news/magazine/autumn2010 (assessed 16 April 2015)

Therien, J, P. (2004) ‘The Politics of International Development: Toward a New Grand Compromise?’ Ecolomic Politics and Law Journal of Trade and Environment Studies, Special Issue 2004-5, available at: http://www.ecolomics-international.org/epal_2004_5_therien_towards_new_grand_compromise....pdf (assessed 16 April 2015)

United Nations (UN) (2013) A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, New York: UN Publications, available at: http://www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/HLP_P2015_Report.pdf (assessed 10 April 2015)

Yunus, M. (2006) The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, available at: http://www.muhammadyunus.org/index.php/professor-yunus/nobel-peace-prize (assessed 18 April 2015)

[1] This part is taken from ODI Website at http://www.odi.org/programmes/rapid