Making policy research work for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


The session on ‘Building partnership between Universities and the United Nations System’ aims to bridge the gap between the academia and the United Nations system. At the heart of this platform is the move from field research to policy research within the spectrum of the implementation of the sustainable development goals by 2030. In fact, field research is an essential component of realistic policy research. (Mead, 2003) With policy research in one hand, one sees any inquiry into the nature and origins of problems that public policy aims to solve. Furthermore, policy research is distinct from purely academic research that seeks only theoretical knowledge. It is also distinct from policy analysis done to inform a specific decision, but it supports such analysis by identifying the causes of problems that policy might change. (Hargrove, 1975)
In the other hand, field research is an inquiry into programs or policies through direct contact, such as by reading government documents, observing operations, inspecting program data, or interviewing staff. Field research emphasizes unstructured learning about a program, and also serendipity—discovering the unexpected. (Mead, 2004:4) It is guided only to a limited extent by prior hypotheses. Above all, it is unstructured by prior research or established data bases. If it includes quantitative analyses, these will address hypotheses derived from the field, and will be based on program data.
A paucity of field inquiry has weakened recent policy research on the problems of sustainable development. Inquiry into these questions consists mostly of statistical models estimated from academic or government data bases, without a hands-on sense of what is going on, especially in the implementation of SSGs. Such modeling shortchanges the political and administrative forces that often drive change. The track is intends to uncover strategies and methods that need to be implemented to bridge the gap between the academic environment and the UN system.

Key words: Policy research, field research, sustainable development goals, UN System.


Erwin C. Hargrove, (1975) The Missing Link: The Study of The Implementation of Social Policy (Washington, DC:Urban Institute, July 1975), pp. 9-11.
Mead, Lawrence M. (2003). Policy into Action: Implementation Research and Welfare Reform, ed. Mary Clare Lennon and Thomas Corbett (Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2003), chap. 6.
Mead, Lawrence M. (2004). Policy Research: The Field Dimension. Prepared for delivery at the conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Atlanta, GA, Oct. 30, 2004.