Making Science on Politics and Governance Matter: Strategies for ‘Bridging the Gap’ Between Knowledge and Policy

January 13 , January 19 & January 20 – 2022 

Paul ‘t Hart (Utrecht University) 
Femke Verwest
(Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) 

Course fees

  • Free for NIG members
  • 500,- for non-members from an NIG member institution
  • 750,- for third parties

Current societal issues like Corona-pandemic and the economic crisis, the housing market problems, the nitrogen crisis, the energy and climate change, are increasingly multi-level, multi-actor, complex, uncertain and persistent in nature. In order to deal with those challenges, it requires a strengthening of the connections between science, policy and society in order to increase the quality, usage and impact of scientific knowledge.

Fittingly, today much social research is not performed in purely academic settings, focused exclusively on academic problems, products and audiences. Indeed, an increasing amount of it takes place in applied settings, focused on practical problems like mentioned above and aiming to have an impact in and on public organizations, public policies, and/or public debate. The main focus is not creation of new knowledge, but practical utilization of knowledge. Such utilization can, but need not be, direct, instrumental and pragmatic; it can also be more indirect, philosophical and political. In any case, applied research tends to involve working much more closely with clients and stakeholders, operating within their systems and contexts in order to produce knowledge with can contribute to improving the quality of political and administrative decision-making.

This entails a lot of ‘boundary work’: finding ways to build bridges between the needs, questions, values, routines and politics of the ‘client system’ you work for or within, and the principles, norms and practices of scientific research.  This course offers you a hands-on experience of what that can be like, and what it means for research design, analysis, and communication. We will examine these issues from different vantage points, including:

  • university-based researchers engaging in ‘contract research’ for public sector clients or seeking to engage in ‘public science’ (influencing societal agendas and public debates);
  • in-house research units within policy/delivery agencies; and ‘
  • think tanks’ with a mandate to provide evidence-based agenda-setting and advice to governments.

After completing this module, you will have a better understandng of (a) the distinctive nature and challenges of designing, delivering and communicating ‘engaged’ and ‘applied’ research on politics and governance (b) strategies and behavioral repertoires for balance academic/methodological with practical/strategic considerations in designing, performing, reporting and presenting research that is explicitly meant to have a societal impact.

Indicative readings within the course’s reading package :

Pautz, H. (2020). Think tanks and policy making. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.

Pollitt, C. (2015), Shadowland: The Poorly-Mapped, Underdiscussed Yet Vital Interface Between Public Administration Research and Practice. In: G. Bouckaert, W. Jann (eds), European Perspectives for Public Administration: The Way Forward.

Boswell, C. and Smith, K. (2017), Rethinking policy ‘impact’: four models of research-policy relations. Palgrave Communications 3, 44, 1-5, DOI: 10.1057/s41599-017-0042-z

Elliott, H., Popay, J. (2000), How are policymakers using evidence? Models of research utilization and local NHS policymaking, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 54, 4, 461-468,

Weiss, C.H. (1979), The many meanings of research utilization, Public Administration Review, 39, 5, 426-31,

Inspiring Impact, Share Your Findings: What’s the Best Way to Share your Findings With Stakeholders?