This post was written by Marie Berry and Milli Lake, co-founders and principal investigators of the Women’s Rights After War Project. Dr. Berry is Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a member of Bridging the Gap’s current International Policy Summer Institute cohort. Dr. Lake is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department at the London School of Economics and a co-founder of the Advancing Research on Conflict Consortium.
What happens when research findings challenge the work that policy makers are invested in promoting?
In recent years, a strong, ongoing initiative to “Bridge the Gap” between academic research and policy makers has gained salience in academic circles. For several years now, and with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and other funders, scholars of international affairs have doubled down on efforts to write for public audiences, engage with various actors in policy processes, and even work to revise tenure and promotion standards to increase the value of policy-relevant work. Through the Women’s Rights After War project and other work, we have been eager participants in these efforts. We view engaged scholarship as part of our commitment to democratizing knowledge more generally.
But what happens when the results of research challenge the status quo policymakers are invested in defending? When research findings fail to reinforce policy priorities—whether they are political, economic, social, or otherwise—such efforts to “bridge the gap” stumble. This tension was recently brought dramatically to our attention when a policy brief we prepared was deemed unsuitable for publication by the organization that commissioned it, because our findings were neither positive nor politically convenient. Our experience, and those of others, raises questions about what happens when researchers generate findings that prove inconvenient to particular policy communities and knowledge gatekeepers. For us, this experience also raised questions about whether pressure to make research findings legible and accessible to policy audiences can inadvertently marginalize research that poses the most obvious challenges to status quo paradigms.Continue reading