Architects and contractors: political economy analysis of policy research in Pakistan

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This study was undertaken as an assignment commissioned by the Research and Evidence Division, DFID London in conjunction with DFID-Pakistan. Its immediate purpose is to provide DFID with a database of policy relevant research activity in the country through mapping the overall landscape, as well as a political economy analysis (PEA) of the research to policy interface. This paper represents the PEA part of the assignment.

This study draws upon large qualitative data gathered from three types of actors: (a) research organizations/groups, including academic institutions and think-tanks in the public sector, non-government or private sector; (b) public sector organizations such as Planning Commission, ministries and departments, engaged in policy making; and (c) key international donor agencies often engaged in commissioning research and supporting policy processes. Data from over 100 institutions, supported by interviews in most cases, was collected during September-December 2012

Key messages:
1. The decentralisation of many government functions and services (i.e. the 18th Amendment to the Constitution) moves the Planning Commission’s role away from detailed command planning towards more indicative planning, with a focus upon inclusive growth and developing human capital and infrastructure. This shift will have a profound effect upon the research/policy interface, since so much of it is presently Islamabad focussed.
2. Participants in the study suggest the links between research and policy in Pakistan are particularly weak due to high levels of political insecurity and volatility which prompts short-term, highly politicised decision making rather than evidence-based choices and policy.
3. Our study findings indicate that this impact of research on policy is also weak because policy makers do not have the capacity or incentives to absorb complex analysis whether quantitative or qualitative. Policy makers do not, therefore, develop functional networks with researchers.
4. Respondents suggest that although the social sciences are a crucial underpinning of much policy analysis, especially across the sectors identified in this study, the social sciences are seriously neglected in Pakistan, and, outside economics, are especially weak. Qualitative forms of research (e.g. from anthropology) are not valued. Underlying social science capacity is weakened by parental preferences for students to follow more obviously lucrative subjects in engineering, medicine, management and other applied sciences. The resulting quality of teaching and research in the social sciences thereby suffers.
5. Participants in this study said that donors dominate the public policy research space through funding and commissioning, but they tend to have short term, projectised priorities across a range of thematic narratives and thus do not build long term capacity and relationships with the longer term, core development narrative of the country. Thus the work that they sponsor is often marginalised by central planners.
6. Overall, research outlets are relatively few and highly concentrated for a country of this size and complexity. While some of the economics-focussed institutions are closely allied with counterparts in government (especially Ministry of Finance and the Planning Commission), other disciplines and institutes, e.g. in agriculture, nutrition and social policy, tend to be allied with particular programmes like the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) rather than a core policy area.
7. There are numerous barriers to undertaking research and its uptake which are summarised in the main text and set out in more detail in the Appendices. Some of these barriers refer to the intrinsic weaknesses of the social sciences, others to socio-cultural sensibilities, and others to the security issues.

A 13-page summary version of the full background paper is also appended.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationIslamabad
PublisherSustainable Development Policy Institute
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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