The Fifth Annual RRPP Conference on Social, Political and Economic Change in the Western Balkans was held in Belgrade on May 24-26th 2013. More than hundred researchers from the region and beyond took participation in this event. During the first day of the conference, the opening ceremony, key note speeches and the research fair took place. The second day was dedicated to the presentations of fifty research projects related to the topic of social, political and economic change in the Western Balkans. The round table titled Do politicians need scientists? – Linking research and policies in the Western Balkans was held during the third day of the conference.
The second day was dedicated to the presentation of fifty research projects related to the topic of social, political and economic change in the Western Balkans. The presentations were organised in five sessions: Gender politics and discourses; Media, political and social discourses; Democracy, networks and informality; New social disparities and social and economic change; Migration, diasporas and remittances. Just to mention some of the research findings presented in the sessions, the Western Balkan societies, including universities, have to struggle with mismanagement and corruptive practices; distribution of resources is politically and ethically driven, and clientelist practices determinate the societal and political landscapes of the region. The diaspora has an important role in the region, particularly due to high remittances, which account for 10% of GDP across the region. Diasporas have interest and potential in investing in their home countries, but the remittances are mostly used for consumption and not so much for investment. Moreover, the gender pay gap in Western Balkan countries is marked by high rates. In the Western Europe, for example, employed man have better labour market characteristics than women, while in the Western Balkans the situation is opposite but still not ensuring the gender pay equality. Moreover, the current trends lean towards the re-inventing patriarchy and returning to traditional gender roles in the region, putting women as subordinated to men, which results in gender stereotyping of women and their segregation in labour market. A research project on ethnic tensions and economic performance showed that employed individuals report both better economic performance and higher ethnic tolerance in comparison to unemployed, which stresses the economic component of ethnic tensions.
Round table: Do politicians need scientists?
Linking research and policies in the Western Balkans
During the third day of the conference, the round table on the links between the researchers and policy makers took place. The moderator of the round table, Igor Bandovic, Senior Manager European Fund for the Balkans pointed out that the political, economic and social complexity of the Western Balkans shows that there is a huge need for evidence based policy making. Research can create new knowledge which can be utilized by the politicians. The question is whether there is a link between the research and policies in the Western Balkans.
The speakers are invited to discuss the following issues:
- What are the links between social science research sector and policy makers in the Western Balkans?
- How policy making is done in the WB?
- Do politicians need scientists?
Nebojsa Lazarevic, European Policy Centre, Serbia focused on the problems in the policy making system in Serbia. The stage of policy development is not separated from making legal acts. The laws often do not reflect the problems. There are no analyses of the policy options. There is no research which would assist in the process. The solutions are sought during the process of implementation. There is no coherent system of policy making. Ministries are run without determining strategic directions and policy is changed depending on the occurring problems. In short, there is no legal enforcement for decision makers to consult anyone, including researchers and independent bodies, while the policies are made. Such system of decision making induce high risk and makes an unfavorable environment.
Sybi Hida, MP, Albania stressed that the use of the research in policy making has two sides – the demand and the supply. On the demand side, he pointed out that there is no formal approach when making laws or delivering strategies and policies in Albania. In other words, the decision makers are not forced to engage different stakeholders, and consequently they use research analyses only occasionally, and on their own initiative. On the supply side, the researchers should increase the quality and the credibility of their research and should push politicians to use their research. The politicians and the wider community need to have trust in the research results, which should be ensured by the researchers.
Gvozden Flego, MP, Croatia explained that political life is a life of communication, stresses Mr. Flego, but there is need for communicative competences, which is usually lacking. Experts need to be engaged in policy making, but the experts – professors, researchers, etc. often do not want to be engaged, do not want to go from teaching to politics. Researchers are much more tuned to criticism and can tell politicians where we did wrong or where we could be better. He concluded that the conferences, such as the RRPP conferences, which engage politicians together with the sciences, are very important for establishing the links and utilizing the knowledge.
Jelena Zarkovic-Rakic, Foundation for the advancement of Economics (FREN), Serbia argued that there are examples of good practices regarding evidence based policies in Serbia, but they are the most often driven by the international donors. The international donors usually approve funds only for the research that is policy relevant, where the output is a policy paper (brief), and where in the dissemination strategy the decision makers are engaged, etc. She also pointed out that there are some examples when the initiative comes from the Government, such as in the case of the law on social assistance creation. She also pointed out that the more proactive attitude of the researchers is very important in the process of the evidence based policies. However, researchers need communicative skills in order to advocate for their research results to be taken into consideration and implemented in the policy making process, which they are often lacking.
Evelyne Glättli, Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), Switzerland pointed out that the research is the part of our daily life, of our society and economy. Therefore, we need applied research. In Switzerland different federal offices have their own research in order to develop strategies or laws. But there is also a great need for the basic research at the universities and scientific institutes. However, scientists should communicate not only in academic journals but also via media with the broader public. Policy making is a permanent consultation process between scientists, politicians and citizens, where media play an important role.
Esmeralda Shehaj, Faculty of Economics, University of Tirana, Albania stressed that the desired qualities and requirements need to be matched in establishing closer cooperation between the scientists and decision makers. She also argued that the huge problem that researchers in Albania, and all over the region, face is the lack of relevant data and the lack of access to the data. The good quality data are crucial for research and consequently for policies. She also argues that researchers often think that it is not a part of their job to communicate and disseminate research results. They usually believe that their voice it is not going to be heard. Finally, she stressed that there are politicians who do not want to hear the researchers and that sometimes the policies are made on perceptions rather than on the research.
Nermin Oruc, Centre for Economic Development and Research – CEDAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina pointed out that more than 80% of the researchers from B&H left the country, arguing that those who stayed are probably not the best. Mr Oruc believes that research capacity needs to be built in order to develop researchers who can provide good quality research and policy recommendations. He stresses that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have educational system which builds research capacities. He also stresses that the role of international donors is very important, since they serve as intermediaries between researchers and decision makers. He concludes that capacity building is crucial. Not only for the researchers, but also for policy makers from different institutions, so that they become able to select good quality research and policy papers offered by researchers.
In short, the links between policy makers and researchers are week in the Western Balkan region. On the one hand, there is no legal framework which would force politicians to consult researchers during the processes of policy development. On the other, research community is not proactive and scientists do not take an active role in advocating their research results, due to inertia or the lack of communicative skills. The key word of the round table is communication between three stakeholders: researchers, media and policy makers which need to be enhanced. The role of international donors is seen as particularly important in the process of building closer links between scientists and politicians.