Receptivity and knowledge transfer in statistical governance issues in international context

(A) Presenter

Marika Pohjola, University of Tampere

(B) Category

Early-stage idea

(C) Partners needed

The resources to be mobilized could be certain national statistical institutes, development co-operation agencies as well as research institutes with relevant experience and interest for content-wise capturing of technical co-operation. The possibility of a public-private partnership is not excluded.

(1) Objectives

The European Code of Practice (CoP) and the African Statistical Charter have their respective reference frameworks for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of fundamental principles for official statistics. The objective of the project is to identify, understand, and describe the different ways the network actors experience monitoring and evaluation mechanisms within statistical governance as well as study the changes in perceptions in conceptualising the processes which include self-assessments, peer review visits and improvement action plans.
The focus is on exploring issues which require real-life contextual understanding and multi-level perspective in order to enable coming up with solutions in ensuring the independence of national statistical systems and when knowing that generally, in all policy fields, absent monitoring of standards is one of the main factors hindering their successful implementation.
The statistical governance issues are viewed from multiple perspectives for enriching the meaning of a singular perspective like that of a knowledge transfer of European Statistical System related values and practices. 
Under the EU Horizon 2020 research programme the present research proposal relates to the area of international cooperation.

(2) Need/rationale

Globalization increases the need and the possibility of real-life multi-contextual understanding and the taking into account of multi-level perspectives in sharing of experiences regarding the implementation of the UN Fundamental principles on official statistics. The principles acknowledge the benefits of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics, contributing to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.
The thematic context of the research is the sharing of experiences within the European Statistical System and African Statistical Charter signatory countries about enforcing the implementation of fundamental principles of official statistics when concentrating on evaluation and monitoring mechanisms encompassing self-assessments, peer review visits and improvement action plans. In general, lack of transparency concerning the criteria and procedures applied for the assessment and surveillance of relevant bodies can also undermine confidence and trust in official statistics and statistical authorities. By signing the African Statistical Charter and agreeing on the implementation of peer reviews the relevant governance actors have decided to move forward to the implementation of a chosen policy which contributes towards removing doubts about uneven levels of implementation.
In 2013, Africa received a quarter of total statistical support (Support, total US$ 394 million in 2013) for enhancing statistical capacity. The top five providers of development co-operation in statistics are World Bank, United Kingdom, European Commission, African Development Bank, and UNFPA (Source: Paris21, PRESS report), and the country-led approach is to be maintained also in statistical co-operation.
The European Statistical Programme (ESP) 2013-2017 encompasses the promotion and implementation of statistical advisory and statistical assistance activities in countries outside the EU. The annual ESS work programmes include facilitation of regional cooperation and encouraging the application of ESS values in accordance with the contents of the CoP. Yet, despite the strong motivation of an actor the contextual factors can limit the success of knowledge transfer.
A mechanism based on communication and information exchange among countries and organisations includes lesson-drawing, joint problem-solving activities within transnational expert networks, and also often the promotion of specific policy models. These kind of interventions into the layers of domestic or regional contexts that affect the actors concerned also need to create synergy with existing elements in order to produce significant results and to be successful. 
“Receptivity” in knowledge and policy transfer in statistical governance issues goes both ways. The outlined analytical framework for the proposed research project suggests that receptivity ascribed both to those who “import” and to those who “export” plays a critical role in processes involving the sharing of experiences. The concept of receptivity is considered to encompass the phases of awareness, assessment and application. The concept further contributes to align the internal and external contexts.
In addition to receptivity, the success of policy transfer on process and programmatic level could partly be explained by governance regime qualities like flexibility and intensity as well as extent and coherence. In brief, all though the ideational sphere is important it always interacts with the material sphere.
(3) Pre-existing results/points of departure
The translation of the policy concepts into the national discourse and legal institutions can be facilitated by policy-oriented learning including technical advice in international development projects, having discourses with several actors and activities involving funding.
The good practices complying with professional standards (i.a. laws, policies and organisational practices) and endorsed by international experts are rarely in their original form suitable to all circumstances and institutional structures but need to be contextualised and institutionalised in order for them to be a meaningful part of the set of institutional norms and practices of a country, a region or a continent.
Also in the field of official statistics the choice of policy instruments and tools generally reflects ways of organising social control, political and administrative strategies, general aims and means of political and administrative actions. The connection to the political and administrative culture and history is evident, and involves dealing with challenges of development of a country’s, region’s or continent’s statistical system. A lack of financial and legal support and minimum public attention to processes of policy development can result in a governance context that is supportive only in principle, and the integration of process into the frame of mainstream policy process can remain thin. The desire to improve statistical governance cannot always be distinguished from immediate or other concerns which may be poverty alleviation and general economic development, or regarding the European context, the strengthening of economic governance. 
The proposed research project has a starting point that cognitive mapping of key dimensions of instruments, tools and mechanism can be made by concentrating to basic features which are identified and described. Here the instrument logic relates to general norms guiding implementation process, the mechanisms to utilisation of specific types of instruments and tools, and the calibrations to specific ways in which the instrument is used, like the use of mandatory or voluntary regulatory guidelines or standards.
A process framework assumes that in order to properly understand the response and behaviour of people and organisations to a policy instrument and tool their perceptions, attitudes and the agendas for change that are relevant to them need to be understood.
The phase of awareness in policy and knowledge transfer refers to scope and accuracy relating to information quality and usefulness including knowledge of locations and circumstances in which the policy has been used as well as goals, design, and its actual operation. Association in the receptivity model includes assessing gathered information against the similarity of problems and goals linked to a policy or its variations, to policy performance and to differences in setting. The extent to which particular features of the new policy environment differ from policy’s original setting, and whether these differences matter for implementation or outcomes is another essential part of association. Application in the receptivity framework means whether the information about the policy in another country is actually used in the decision process. Conclusions about the incompatibility or the need to adapt can be reached, or rapid progress in implementation take place. The recognition of differences can sometimes result in gradual implementation or modification.
A process of knowledge and information transfer between producers, senders, facilitators and recipients is assumed to take place concerning the statistical governance framework for developing, producing and disseminating statistics. External change agents add new scales, new actors, new problems perceptions, new instruments and new responsibilities to the existing one. Coherence would then mean the capability of integrating the perceptions to the extent that a common ground could be established when actors involved have different problem perceptions.
Receptivity is important on both ends of the knowledge transfer, and to emphasise, a critical quality for the actors presenting best practices. Receptivity is dependent on the way new information can be associated and exploited around existing knowledge, activities and objectives. It can be positively influenced by internal strategies of actor organisations which promote continuous learning, consciously dealing with uncertainty and encouraging supportive intraorganisational relations.
In the proposed research project the more general reference to “contextualization” or “context-specificity” is suggested to be deciphered by concentrating on variables of the actor characteristics which are cognitions, motivations, and power and resources when exploring the variations and changes in perceptions in monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The CIT Theory developed by Hans Bressers (2004) provides a way to understand the processes that occur when applied in analysing both the characteristics of the actors and the wider and governance contexts, and focusing on the nature of processes, rather than on the ultimate results.
It could be further explored how certain qualities of the governance regime can be used to understand their influence on the interaction processes. These crucial qualities would be extent, coherence, flexibility and intensity. Extent and coherence are to be considered as requirements for effective management whereas governance flexibility and intensity are requirements for adaptive management, processes of change and creation of new resources.

(4) Methods

A framework based on the application of Contextual Interaction Theory (CIT) is suggested to provide a conceptual lens to explore the receptivity and perceptions in the process of knowledge transfer in statistical governance issues through the analysis of what motivates the actors, what information they hold to be true and how resources are distributed.
The policy processes are viewed as social interaction processes that are ultimately driven by the actors involved, and, accordingly, the actors and their main characteristics are placed on the central stage. The CIT asserts that all influences will flow via the key characteristics involved. With the layers of context the factors representing different perspectives on social interaction processes can be identified and analysed. The main actor characteristics are also influenced by many external factors from a multilayered context. Part of the context is the case-specific context. A further layer of context is the structural governance context. The elements of governance include levels and scales, networks and actors, perspectives and goal ambitions, strategies and instruments, responsibilities and resources for implementation. Structural context can also include relevant legislation. A less specified layer of wider contexts also exist, within which the culture, and economic and technical developments as well as political system are included. As mentioned, the concept of receptivity contributes to align the external and internal contexts.
The research project is planned to be a mixed-methods research project which applies quantitative research methods for providing insight into a breadth of experiences when gathering descriptive information, and qualitative research in exploring the meaning and understanding of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in the implementation of fundamental principles of official statistics. A pragmatic perspective of ""what works,"" using different approaches and stressing the importance of the research problem and question is foreseen while valuing both objective and subjective knowledge. The important methodological issues to be considered include i.a. sampling as well as analytic and interpretative issues.
In understanding emerging processes methods of data collection such as in-depth interviews, and review of documents (i.a. implementation guidelines, planning and programming documents) provide detailed information about setting and context. The semi-structured interviews are about reflecting on and describing the changes on conceptualization related to monitoring and evaluation mechanism within statistical governance.
The empirical data can be collected, for example, in connection to seminars and other events involving sharing of experiences and knowledge transfer. The information will be contextualized, and the integration of data will be done by merging or connecting data in order to develope a more complete understanding of the research issue.
Tentatively, the analysis aims to describe collective experiences and various differences rather than describing individual experiences and explaining the causes for differences.
A research strategy of small-N case study could be pursued. 

(5) Resources mobilised

At the moment, the project proposal has the status of an early-stage-research idea. The resources to be mobilized could be certain national statistical institutes, development co-operation agencies as well as research institutes with relevant experience and interest for content-wise capturing of technical co-operation. The possibility of a public-private partnership is not excluded.

(6) Expected results

The project aims at contributing to an increased multi-contextual understanding of the complexity of monitoring and evaluation conceptions within statistical governance, and at identifying explanatory factors for the changes in perceptions regarding the implementation of fundamental principles of official statistics when pursuing their enforcement.
The project can also result to improved skills for tomorrow’s official statisticians in sharing of experiences and problem-solving in globalized environment by contributing to greater conceptual clarity and technical specificity regarding the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms within statistical governance.