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Policy entrepreneurship

Time (GMT +01) 11:00 12:30


Simon Maxwell, Director, ODI
Ann Pettifor, Director, Jubilee Research

Baroness Margaret Jay, ODI

  1. Baroness Jay introduced the question to be addressed this meeting, namely: How can one be an effective policy entrepreneur? And is policy entrepreneurship an art or a science?
  2. Simon Maxwell spoke on the topic of how researchers can be successful policy entrepreneurs. He introduced the topic by referring to a quote that illustrates how inept researchers can sometimes be at engaging with policy processes: "… government ministers and civil servants were scathing about some of the [research] work they receive. This is claimed all too often to speak naively of policy issues, demonstrate little or no awareness of current policy, is over-technical and sometimes need drastic editing to make it readable to key players." (Commission on the Social Sciences (2003), Great Expectations: the Social Sciences in Britain, Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences, London)
  3. He emphasised that he was not addressing the problem of campaigning, even research-rich campaigning. Ann Pettifor was a role model in that respect, but campaigning was a different skill. Nor were his remarks addressed to pure researchers.
  4. Instead, he was dealing with researchers interested in policy. The task could best be summarised in the title of Diane Stone's book on think tanks and policy processes): 'Capturing the Political Imagination'. How can we do this?
  5. We know already that policy is not formed in a linear fashion. There are many theoretical models to guide us (for overviews, see previous work by Sutton - ODI Working Paper 118, Crewe & Young - ODI Working Paper 173, and De Vibe et al - ODI Working Paper 174.) The Research and Policy Programme (RAPID) at ODI has organised these theories into a three-dimensional framework, focusing on the three spheres of policy context, evidence, and links.
  6. Policy entrepreneurship by researchers is only one small part of the process. The options can be presented as four different approaches to policy entrepreneurship.
  7. A successful policy entrepreneur needs to be a good storyteller. This can be illustrated by Sheherazade, who told stories to stay alive. Stories may resemble development narratives (as examined by Roe). Powerful narratives include the desertification narrative and the narrative of structural adjustment.
  8. A successful policy entrepreneur needs to be a good networker. ODI networks and meetings offer good examples of epistemic communities in the international development field.
  9. A successful policy entrepreneur needs to be a good engineer, (as illustrated by Brunel). 'Policy is what policy does', and there is little point in having a policy on paper if it is not implemented by the 'street level bureaucrats'. Researchers need to engage both with high-level policy makers and ground-level practitioners.
  10. A successful policy entrepreneur needs to be a good fixer (like Rasputin). It is important to understand the political game surrounding the policy process. If you want to change anything you need to identify the relevant sources of power (which according to Charles Handy can be divided into categories of physical, resource, position, expert, personal, or negative).
  11. Final issues and questions:
  • How do we make the right choices regarding sequencing and time prioritisation?
  • Are there hidden trade-offs? For example, it is sometimes difficult to strike a balance between ODI's public and private activities.
  • Can we expect one individual to take on all these four styles of entrepreneurship, or do we need to construct teams that combine the four styles as a group?
  • Can policy entrepreneurship be taught? Simon suggested that the answer to this final question is yes.
  • Simon also invited the audience to fill out a questionnaire on policy entrepreneurship.
Ann Pettifor started off by stating that as far as she was concerned, evidence really does not matter. For example, there is a mountain of evidence on the effects of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and yet this has not mobilised the global community to the extent necessary. So what really matters, is making the evidence matter.In 1994, when Ann started working with the Debt Crisis Network, there was a lack of information and understanding of the individual debtors, how much debt they owed, and their relationship to the British government. Ann duly set out to unearth the details of the loans made by the government. The prevailing attitude at the time was that debt relief might be seen as a charitable act to aid poor countries. The Debt Crisis Network uncovered a far more complete picture of what was going on by assembling evidence about creditors and by showing through analysis of this evidence that debt relief was not just a matter of charity.Analysing evidence in this way can be compared to cutting a diamond. The diamond cutter spends a long time examining the stone from all angles, before deciding just where and how to cut it in order to maximise the potential reflection of the diamond.When the Debt Crisis Network found the right way to 'cut' the evidence - framing the problem of debt in terms of the oil crisis, export arrangement and lending policies - the issue of debt relief was seen in a different light. This empowered campaigners to mobilise.The debt relief campaign paid much attention to ways of communicating the evidence they had. For example, they briefed the comedian Mark Thomas on the role of the Export Credit Guarantee Department, and he incorporated this into his show. An issue that would otherwise not have caught the interest of many people was thus communicated more widely. Another aspect of public communication was the need to explain economic theory in accessible formats - without being patronising towards the debt relief supporters. The mobilisation of the debt relief campaign empowered people both to understand the issue and to do something about it - witness the astounding number of letters sent to the Treasury on the matter.Ann pointed out that there are still research and policy staff in development agencies who do not aim for communication with the public, but rather aim explicitly for exclusivity. University staff may also be withdrawn. The Jubilee campaign found it very hard to link up with academics who would be willing to provide them with intellectual ballast.In terms of mobilising people, it is also important to find the right angles. Ann suggested that poverty reduction is now a rather hackneyed phrase, and prefers the phrase economic justice. This was used to mobilise people for the Jubilee campaign.The campaign made a couple of resolutions right from the start that helped them during their work: Firstly, they decided that they would not demand that a bureaucracy change its ways. Instead, they would go straight to the G7 - as they started off by doing in Birmingham. Secondly, it would not be possible to have a democratically run global campaign. Therefore, they used the 'McDonalds' model where every country could set up its own Jubilee 'outlet' using the same materials and analyses.Comments from the audience:
  • It is important to keep messages to policy makers simple.
  • Should we add another style of policy entrepreneur to Simon's four types, namely style of policy champion or policy advocate?
  • New ministers are often looking for a cause to champion.
  • If it is difficult to engage with academics - are there ways of bringing them on board right from the start?
  • Perhaps places like ODI needs a policy and strategic wing on the one side and an active, militant wing on the other side.
  • Ann's talk brought up new ways to use evidence. Firstly, she suggested that evidence can be used to refute and to challenge your opponents. Secondly, she suggested that evidence can be used to demystify; complex evidence can be used to back up a simple and understandable narrative.
  • Successful policy change is often built on many 'dead bodies' or previous failed attempts. (It takes many bricks to build a wall with a policy window…)
  • Jubilee 2000 managed to capture the political imagination partly because it built on religious narratives that spoke to certain groups.
  • Advertising is not the same as policy change. If advertising can be compared to slight shifts in a tributary flow, policy change, on the other hand, is about reversing the flow of the entire river.


The seventh event in the 'Does Evidence Matter?' series examined the role of the policy entrepreneur. It tackled questions like:

  • How can one be an effective policy entrepreneur?
  • Is policy entrepreneurship an art or a science?