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Developing talents, advancing research
Published:  28 Feb 2022

Co-operation on research and policy is a two-way street

INTERVIEW: The COVID-19 global health crisis demonstrates the importance of scientific work for informed policy decisions. The German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs uses MSCA researchers to support political decisions with the best available scientific feedback.

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The COVID-19 global health crisis demonstrates the importance of scientific work for informed policy decisions. The need for strong science-policy links is ongoing.

The European Commission actively works to build links between researchers and policymakers. This ensures better evidence-based policymaking and also extends researchers’ career prospects to go beyond academia.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) provides such opportunities through secondments, placements and similar work-based training.

Research and policy

A good example of strong links between research and policy comes from the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS). They actively cooperate with scientists, either through funding scientific research or by hosting early-stage researchers as part of their training.

The Ministry participated in an MSCA project, supervising 2 doctoral candidates during their secondment phase.

We spoke with Katharina Erbeldinger, a senior official at the BMAS. She works as a Project Manager for Poverty and Wealth reporting within the Fundamental Issues Department. 

How does BMAS, and your department specifically, work with scientific feedback to policy?

 BMAS brought funding scientific evaluation of public policies to a new level some 15 years ago as part of the New Public Management with the view to assessing the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of public policies.

Germany also acknowledged the need for more transparency in the ministries’ work and contribution to public welfare. Social research is one of the tools to do so.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs regularly commissions review of its work and supports policy feedback by researchers with relevant expertise through two affiliated research institutes, a network of social policy researchers who initiate relevant research topics, and through independent researchers hired on an ad hoc basis.

We also host young researchers for training as part of their studies. They usually conduct desk research and literature review, or help with analysing the ministry’s datasets in line with their expertise. They also attend meetings and events on public policy or participate in parliamentary discussions.

Our organisational set-up provides many opportunities for young researchers to engage in and contribute to research work. This is what makes this scheme worthwhile for the ministry while at the same time, offering the research community insight into our work.

It is an equally good venue for recruiting staff among these young professionals. A lot of people who work with the ministry have scientific background, so it is a good way to show what the job at the Ministry entails.

BMAS took part in GLOMO, an MSCA Innovative Training Network (equivalent to Doctoral Network in Horizon Europe) comprising more than 15 European academic and non-academic organisations, and focusing on global labour mobility, a topic closely linked to the work of BMAS. You were involved as a member of the Supervisory Board. This is the first MSCA project for BMAS – how did you get involved in the project and what is your experience?

One of the BMAS affiliated research institutes is involved in GLOMO (Global Mobility of employees), so there is obviously a very close link through staff members from the two institutions who have worked together for years. This trust basis was decisive for us to join GLOMO as it gave us openness to explore this opportunity and join the partnership.

BMAS agreed to host two early-stage researchers and formed thus part of the Supervisory Board. The hosting of the participants would not have been too resource-intensive for the Ministry as we have enough capacity, both in terms of the premises for hosting and required personnel expertise. For me personally, it was much less than 10% of the workload and other colleagues in the ministry could easily support the researchers when needed.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the placement in GLOMO took place online. The researchers could present their work, discuss it with colleagues and join a few events. On top of placing the two researchers, my tasks additionally comprised reviewing reports for the Supervisory Board and providing advice on project work.

Regarding training, it was a two-way process, whereby we got insights into the research work of the two ESRs, but also introduced them to the political work of the ministry. I was able to give lectures on legal and practical issues concerning international labour mobility related to Germany and the EU.

When it comes to any additional training, the reality is, there are many more regulations in governmental bodies compared to the other sectors and non-academic actors, e.g. industry or civil society organisations. They certainly have more freedom to offer concrete job-related training whereas public administration faces more boundaries to integrate hosted researchers into such work-based learning.

How was the exchange with other organisations in the project?

The exchange with the other members of the supervisory board was very interesting and insightful. It was of varying intensity and it certainly would have been more intense had it not been for the pandemic. For us, the exchange was valuable to get familiar with other organisations and networks, EU institutions and to better understand their work. It is always helpful to know whom to contact if there is a need for expertise or cooperation in these organisations.

Based on your experience in GLOMO, would you consider joining another MSCA or other EU-funded project in the future?

I evaluate very positively the experiences in the project. In fact, we have had some other requests for cooperation - including MSCA projects – and we are certainly interested. It is a very good opportunity to learn about ongoing research and benefit from experimental interdisciplinary research linked to our portfolio for which BMAS would usually not have resources.

Finally, international projects such as GLOMO are an opportunity to build further rapport with the public and show governmental transparency.

Scientific evaluation such as the one at BMAS requires resources. What is the argument for having a budget line dedicated to scientific feedback to policy?

This kind of investment - be it in money or time - truly pays off in the long run since it provides valuable evidence of what works and what may not. It improves the knowledge of what to measure and how.

Another aspect is transparency and openness for engagement with society. GLOMO, for example, would not have been possible if it were not for the openness in the ministry to engage with other actors and provide insight into its work. I expect this spirit of openness prevails in many public authorities in Europe and it fits well into the relationships between European governments and their societies.

Returning to the research-policy cooperation, this is a two-way street. I believe that the exchange through early-stage research and in Horizon Europe can be a big contribution to the exchange between science and policy.

Become involved in policy

MSCA fellows are encouraged to raise awareness of their research findings to support political decisions with the best available scientific evidence. They are encouraged to engage with policy makers, civil society movements and other MSCA projects. 

The opportunity to work inside public administrations arises through Postdoctoral Fellowships, Doctoral Networks and Staff Exchange actions. For their part, policymakers can leverage research results and scientific support from well-trained researchers.

Events can be a good occasion to create connections and feed policy debates with researchers’ findings. Follow the links below to learn more about some key events 

Further, scientists can create meaningful connections and put a spotlight on their results and innovations through initiatives promoted by the European Commission. Follow the links below to learn more about these types of initiative.

Tagged in:  MSCA
Published:  28 Feb 2022