Originally published on Apolitical
Advice from the right experts can be transformative in policy design, but first you have to make the connection
In the early 1990s homicides were the leading cause of death in Cali, Colombia.
Rather than pursuing reactive policy measures, the mayor, Dr Rodrigo Guerrero, brought together an expert taskforce to gather data on preventable risk factors of violence. Since the country was embroiled in the War on Drugs, many had presumed that cocaine and the drug trade was the source of the violence, but the results pointed to another surprising culprit, as alcohol was identified as one of the strongest underlying commonalities. Within three years of an enforced late night ban on liquor sales, homicide rates had fallen by 50 percent.
Yet, despite the apparent simplicity of this intervention, achieving such a profound impact is not easy. Policymaking is complex because it is about making choices between different options, which affect people in different ways, many of which are uncertain. Today’s growing number of public policy challenges, from crime, emerging disease threats to urbanisation and food insecurity demand policy decisions at an ever faster pace. And, while there are many factors that contribute to how policy decisions are made, as the Cali homicide example shows us, expert advice can help clarify the nature of the problem and thereby point to better response options.
Building bridges to the expert community
Expert advice is not simply about delivering well-packaged and cleverly crafted messages. Rather it is about building, over time, a system that routinely seeks and generates advice.
So while governments are increasingly demanding that the research communities they support produce policy-relevant knowledge and are more accountable to society, it is equally important to have mechanisms in place through which knowledge can be accessed and deployed.