Why knowledge-to-policy strategy matters

[The Jakarta Post, 22 Jul 2017] Coordination is a tough task for bureaucracies everywhere, especially in Indonesia. We do have coordinating ministers, but their tangible jobs are somewhat fuzzy.

Since the beginning of this republic, we have attempted to show a concerted effort in developing this nation. Yet little has been achieved in terms of integration and well organized government programs.

As an optimist, nonetheless, one must believe that someday we will be able to create effective coordination among government institutions. We should learn from a contemporary example called the Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP) that has been used in the Ministry of Culture and Education (MoCE) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA).

Although not officially an inter-ministerial coordinating program, the ACDP served as a knowledge producer for the education sector across three ministries (the MoCE, the MoRA and the Ministry for National Development Planning/National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), besides disseminating this knowledge to influence policies for the improvement of education in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, on July 11, this successful think tank was officially closed after having been extended by one year. ACDP Indonesia had been operating for around six and a half years. At least four ministries have been served by ACDP, namely the aforementioned MoCE and MoRA, the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (MoRTHE) and Bappenas.

What lessons do we learn from ACDP Indonesia? Plenty. Theirs is a success story of joint initiatives to improve the Indonesian education system. As pointed out by Winfried F. Wicklein, country director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Indonesia, the ACDP demonstrated the importance of two aspects: a common platform and communication.

The institution has produced 63 major studies in the education sector, on anything from teacher absenteeism to new ways of teaching Islam at schools. Its success is the fruit of exactly those two aspects that come from the participating four ministries. In the process, the ACDP became the focus of government and nonstate stakeholders in working together on many missions to address the roots of problems in our education system.

The ADB successfully managed the US$45 million in funding from the European Union and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in running the ACDP program. In the middle of its operation, around late 2014, the donors recommended that the ACDP be more aggressive in disseminating its research findings.

A communication team was formed and initiated a comprehensive public relations strategy. In due course, this recommendation moved the ACDP onward to conduct a knowledge-to-policy engagement in the last two years. Upon its closing, the ACDP has put all its rich findings and knowledge online at the rekapin.id portal.

The knowledge-to-policy or K2P approach is not as simple as it sounds. In 2015, Falk Daviter of the University of Potsdam in Germany conducted a study that identified difference between “knowledge creep” and “knowledge shifts” in the policy process.

While knowledge creep is associated with incremental policy change within existing policy structures, knowledge shifts are linked to more fundamental policy change in situations when the structures of political authority undergo some level of transformation.

Those who work in the government of Indonesia know exactly that the former is more common than the latter. Take the national exam as an example. It is very difficult to reform the high-stakes assessment system, because political forces that interplay will not tolerate extreme changes in this policy.

Alas, a rapid review of the national exam shows that we need to significantly change the curriculum and its related materials, such as textbooks and teaching methodology. Subsequently, this finding will not influence the current practices.

Some knowledge is not immediately put to use in policies. CH Weiss (1993) claimed that it takes 10 years or more before decision-makers respond to the accumulation of consistent evidence. New information and ideas enter people’s consciousness and alter the way issues are perceived and framed.

Weiss added that knowledge creep, therefore, describes a slow trickle that produces slow results. In Indonesia’s case, it will take one or two presidential terms. Not only that, the bureaucracy might prefer the status quo and resist any reforms, or at least make any new initiatives based on empirical studies crippled and ineffective.

A study in 1986 found that bureaucratic and political organizations acquire, interpret and evaluate information based on preexisting “conventions of knowing,” so information that conflicts with the organizational premises is typically suppressed or rejected.

The end of the ACDP’s mission must be followed by developing a strong government collaboration platform to further knowledge-based policymaking and the knowledge-to-policy (K2P) agenda. Some public policy experts even suggest adding more steps to the implementation of the knowledge-to-policy-to-practice (K2P2P) framework.

We can develop similar think tanks to those that already exist in government offices or universities — in Jakarta and in other provinces and districts — something the ACDP did not have a chance to accomplish. The twinning program between Indonesian universities and counterparts from abroad, especially more advanced research universities in OECD countries, has not yet been implemented.

The DFAT Australia has continued the ACDP work with the programs “INOVASI” and TASS (Technical Assistance for Education System Strengthening), but these do not address the twinning proposal. Nevertheless, the government and the education communities have high expectations that the two new projects can deliver more demand-driven knowledge and ready-to-use research findings.

The ACDP’s accomplishments, however, are just the beginning. It has been demonstrated that a successful K2P2P effort requires not only public discourse, but also wide public participation and concrete follow-up policies to solve the problems and settle any disputes or anomalies concerning national policy.

Improving our national education system takes a lot of effort and therefore needs strong popular support, effective coordination and good teamwork. We can learn from an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Indeed, it is a long journey.

Totok Amin Soefijanto

The writer is the vice rector of Paramadina University and research director of Paramadina Public Policy Institute, Jakarta.



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