Can Research with Policymakers Change the World?
Over the past two decades, economists have increasingly sought to collaborate with policymakers in designing and executing research projects, as a way to achieve greater policy relevance. However, the extent to which such partnerships lead to actual policy changes remains underexplored, partly due to the lack of available data. To address this question, I construct a unique dataset of over 500 academic research projects in the field of development economics, which includes information on the level of policymakers’ involvement at the proposal stage and tracks changes in policy decisions observed following project implementation. Projects developed in partnership with policymakers are 15 to 20 percentage points more likely to result in observed policy change. This relationship is fully conditional on academic achievement (i.e., publication), suggesting that it does not result from a sorting of policymakers into policy-oriented studies of limited academic value. Local political conditions affect when and where these partnerships are formed. I identify a “window of opportunity” for researcher-policymaker partnerships coinciding with the election cycle: these collaborations most often occur earlier in the term when political conditions are conducive to experimentation and reform.
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