- Greece, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands will receive support to reform their public administrations and science and innovation systems.
- During the kick-off meeting, Greek Minister Akis Skertsos, Czech Deputy Minister Marek Havrda, Director-Generals Mario Nava (DG REFORM) and Stephen Quest (JRC), OECD Director for Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski, and representatives from the countries’ beneficiary organisations, all reflected on how building better relationships between scientific evidence and policymaking can help reinforce democracy and public trust.
- This is a 2-year reform project funded by DG REFORM’s Technical Support Instrument, and implemented by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
On 8th November 2022, the European Commission started a project to support seven EU Member States to reform their public administrations by bringing closer policymaking with scientific knowledge, policy evaluation, and evidence. The countries involved are Greece, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands.
While Covid-19 put on the spotlight the use of scientific knowledge in policymaking, European societies face other complex problems such as the climate crisis, energy transition, public mis- and disinformation, to name just a few, which all put to the test public trust in democratic institutions and science. With the project “Building capacity for evidence-informed policymaking in governance and public administration in a post-pandemic Europe”, these seven countries expect to find ways to improve their public administrations and science and innovation systems to create better connections between scientific knowledge and policymaking.
Indeed, many speakers and participants to this kick-off event made explicit references to the linkage between democracy, scientific research, and the need to create common deliberative spaces between policymakers, scientists, and citizens. This kick-off event for the project gathered around 40 people in Brussels, with over 160 people following the event online. You may read the highlights of the event further below.
This 2-year project is funded by DG REFORM’s Technical Support Instrument (TSI) and it will be implemented with the support of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The project will entail, among different activities, country analyses for the production of roadmaps with recommendations for reform implementation; capacity-building workshops for scientists, policymakers, and knowledge brokers; and thematic symposia to promote international exchange and mutual learning.
More information will be uploaded shortly on this website.
Main meeting highlights
Public reforms to boost countries' economy and democratic resilience
After Director-General of Structural Reform Support Mario Nava officially opened the event, Greek Minister of State for the Coordination of Government Policies Akis Skertsos gave a list of Greek examples of successful evidence-informed policies useful to tackle the Covid-19 pandemics and other crises. The minister elaborated the good numbers of Greece in economic growth, job creation, exports, digitalisation of the State, energy transition, and foreign investments, and how different public administration reforms are taking place under the Recovery and Resilience Funds.
Minister Skertsos welcomed the beginning of this multi-country project and asked the Commission to take “a leading role in helping in the institutionalisation of evidence-informed policymaking”.
Director-General Mario Nava referred to the feedback from his visits to Member States: public administrations are requesting reinforcement of their analytical capacity and support for embedding strategic foresight. This project comes timely “to tackle potential deficiencies in governance, structures (by institutionalising the interaction between science and policy) and skills of scientists and policymakers”.
Director-General Nava highlighted this project is inextricably linked to the mission of DG REFORM “to support meaningful reforms in the Member States” using evidence and analysis, but also “bringing European added value” with the capacity of bringing such a coalition of seven EU Member States willing to undertake reforms in the use how public administrations leverage science-for-policy activities. He also made reference to this project being part of a larger effort in the Commission to mainstream support for evidence-informed policymaking, such as the Commission’s Expert Group on Public Administration and Governance and the Staff Working Documents on “Supporting and connecting policymaking in the Member States with scientific research” and “Supporting public administrations in the EU Member States to deliver reforms and prepare for the future”.
Words from the implementing partners: the JRC and the OECD
This project will be implemented by two international organisations specialised in science for policy and reforms in public administration: the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Director General of the European Commission’s JRC Stephen Quest stressed out that “science and strong evidence is needed not only for Covid-19 but for all the policy challenges that we have at the moment. I cannot think of a single area of policy that does not require science and strong evidence to be successful”.
Quest made a reference to the JRC’s series of workshops for “Strengthening and connecting science-for-policy ecosystems across the EU” and the Staff Working Document which identified as challenges: weak coordination of actors, missing professional competences and issues around the governance of evidence use of policymaking.
JRC Head of Unit David Mair, who was the master of ceremonies for all the event, made a significant remark:
Next, Elsa Pilichowski, Director for Public Governance in the OECD, linked this project to other works of the OECD on evidence-informed policymaking, public trust in government and democracy, response to the increasingly complex information systems and how to cope with mis- and disinformation, and the use of policy evaluation as an instrument to improving public governance.
Altogether, Pilichowski welcomed that the OECD is a partner in this strategic project, as their goals are parallel to OECD’s mission to build trust and reinforce democracy.
At the beginning of her speech, Pilichowski underlined the role of evidence in the Covid-19 crisis and how the OECD has assessed the variety of government responses.
Promoting the use of evidence to support inclusive governments in democratic societies
The first roundtable was chaired by Stéphane Jacobzone, from the OECD, and was focused on different actors at the heart of public administration that require scientific evidence.
Vladislavs Vesperis, Deputy Head of the Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre in Latvia, elaborated on the crucial dialogue between politicians, scientists, civil servants, and society. While politicians are democratically elected and have the public legitimacy for taking decisions, scientists need to be able to provide scientific information during any deliberation, and civil servants have to create and shape different policy options. Vesperis highlighted the role of transparency on all this policy design and open discussion with society at large, as general public would be better aware of the rational of policy decisions taken.
Daiva Žaromskytė-Rastenė, Head of the Strategic Governance Group, Office of the Government, Lithuania, underlined how during planning of legislative agenda, governments can foresee different points of entry for scientific evidence such as regulatory impact assessment, call for evidence, policy evaluations, etc. Daiva stressed the role of intermediaries between science and policymaking; as such she referred to how Lithuania has established a small team of policy analysts across ministries to develop reform projects and legislative drafts, and help establish how evidence should be collected.
Ben Smeets, Director General Recruitment and Development, FPS Policy and Support, BOSA, Belgium, referred to the need to provide scientific information to all political groups. Smeets pointed out the need for a cultural change to strengthen science-for-policy ecosystems, where actors and stakeholders are well defined and information is much more accessible and structured, with objectives defined both at the short and long-term. Smeets remarked that this multi-country project will help set international standards to promote national reforms.
Embedding analytical competences at the heart of government
Deputy Minister for European Affairs Marek Havrda in the Czech Republic intervened not only as one of the beneficiary countries, but also as a representative of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In his keynote, Havrda highlighted the role of scientific evidence across different stages of the policy cycle: involving problem definition, qualitative criteria of success, impact assessments, and foresight exercises.
Havrda referred to existing reforms in the Czech Republic, which has put “evidence-informed policymaking high on the agenda”. The government has established a central analysis unit as part of VLADA, the office of government, with the aim to support ministries in the design of policies with rigorous impact assessments and guidelines to collect scientific information. The unit will deploy and manage a network of analysts across ministries to ensure building capacity and inter-ministerial coordination.
A look on the supply of science and evidence to address policy challenges
David Mair, from the JRC, chaired the second roundtable with representatives from governmental bodies and boundary organisations that are helping to feed policymaking with scientific information.
Anu Noorma, Director General, Estonian Research Council, Estonia, supported science as a source of information based on its long-tested methodology that helps understand better reality, but at the same time scientific data always needs to deal with levels of uncertainty which are difficult to communicate to the public. Noorma explained the work of the network of science advisers to ministries, which has increased capacity in government and promote inter-ministerial coordination, and inspired by that, Estonia has also launched a network of development advisors to link ministries with industry associations.
Frans Brom, Director of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), the Netherlands, distinguished the role of science to help establish regulatory standards (such as in the use of chemical substances) and to build scenarios and long-term strategic vision (such as what to do with the rise of sea levels). Brom also explained that at the interface between science and policy it is necessary to translate scientific data into meaningful information for policymakers, and also to design a scientific process by which collect all type of information, and not only scientific one, from all the stakeholders involved in a policy issue (citizens, companies, NGOs, etc.). The Dutch expert lastly referred to the timing, as it is crucial for science to interact and influence during problem definition and narrative framework of any issue. Brom highlighted that “boundary organisations and much intermediary work is needed to create the community of people to develop competences together and it is crucial to build up a science-for-policy ecosystem to cooperate on this issue”.
Šimon Vydra, Head of the Czech Government Analytical Unit, Czech Republic, signalled the mismatch between the policy and research cycles and timings, and stressed the importance of their analysts to support governmental action and help make sense of reality. Vydra described the role of such analysts as key to support policy problem definition, and to provide different policy options for its solution, checking at what type of intervention would likely be able to provide the desired goal. Among the discussion, questions around incentives, scientific independence, and integrity were shared, Brom highlighted that “institutional safeguards help establish boundaries to remain independent, but independence is not only about the advice given but also about challenging the policy question”.
Closing remarks on cultural change, education, and co-creation
To bring the event to an end, Athanasios Kontogeorgis, Secretary General of Coordination in the Presidency of the Government in Greece, as a representative of the coordinating country, linked the need of collaboration between scientists and policymakers in order to implement the United Nations’s Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs). Kontogeorgis looked forward for the series of national kick-off meetings which will promote cultural change for stronger cooperation between all governmental actors to embed evidence in policymaking.
Lastly, Daniele Dotto, DG REFORM's Head of the Governance and Public Administration Unit, illustrated the importance of scientific evidence with practical challenges, such as those of the mad cow disease decades ago and other “super-wicked” problems such as climate crisis. Dotto highlighted that this project will promote education at two levels: “education in the schools to listening to science”, and a bilateral education in the scientific community and politicians and civil servants to understand each other and find cooperative ways of working together.
Dotto reminded about the need for “concrete and actionable results” for participating Member States, but also for non-participating ones, so that this “game-changing" project helps strengthen an interconnected European science-for-policy ecosystem. Daniele closed the event after thanking Greece as the coordinating country of this coalition and all its efforts to reform public governance.