The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 167

Knowledge, politics and development policy: Reflections over four decades

Working Paper 167

21 February 2014

The importance of knowledge and expertise for promoting development and poverty reduction has long been emphasized. Over the last forty years, the emphasis has changed somewhat: from training of local staff, to undertaking research – which may provide appropriate ‘evidence’ for decision-making. This is reflected in how the Development Planning Unit (DPU) itself has changed. When I joined in 1975, DPU was primarily involved in training, offering mid-career diploma and certificate courses for practitioners; now it is engaged in educating students at masters and PhD level. 

To what extent is such expertise – whether embodied in professional planners or disembodied, in the form of research findings – valued and made use of? This is the topic of the paper, which begins with some broad reflections on the issue as a whole, followed by a more specific and detailed account of some empirical findings about whether and how local research was used in one specific context: the preparation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in East Africa.

The study concluded that research played a rather limited role in policy-making in the four countries studied; and that local research substantially less. Higher education, whether at home or abroad, is hugely important in building up the knowledge and expertise that countries require for their development. But the expertise of young professionals, and the knowledge that research can bring, are not sufficiently utilized.