Influencing public policies and discourses: Roles of academia

Asit K. Biswas



In November 2014, the Asia and Pacific Policy Society (APPS) and Crawford School of Public Policy of the Australian National University, started a website called Policy Forum. The objective was to provide a platform where new and innovative ideas on public policy issues confronting the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in the rest of the world, could be outlined, discussed and debated. In my view, in only two years, Policy Forum has become the “go to” place to find original and thought-provoking ideas on public policies that are relevant for different parts of the world.

I was honoured to be invited to speak at the second anniversary celebration of Policy Forum, at Crawford School of Public Policy of the Australian National University in November 2016. The success of this new multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary, multi-issues and multi-country forum is now beyond doubt. Primarily because of thought-provoking ideas that this “new” platform have consistently championed and published, it has reached an incredible audience of 12 million people over the last year. What is even more remarkable is the fact that it has achieved this enviable record only within two years and on a shoestring budget. Many well-financed university-related websites still struggle to attract only 100,000, or even less visitors each year. It is a tribute to a handful of people who are managing this website. Their acumen, dedication and commitment have made this absolutely remarkable achievement possible.

My anniversary lecture focused on why universities have failed so miserably in terms of influencing public discourses and debates as well as in the formulation of public policies. Some of the world’s most talented people are in the academia. Yet, academia seldom has much impact on what the world discusses or the policies that are formulated and then implemented in different fields and regions. There appears to be complete disconnect between academia and the real world in terms of actual policy formulation and implementation. The world, however, needs us to reconnect. From the post-fact world of Brexit to the Divided States of Trump, the defeat of Matteo Renzi in Italy, to the clamping down on free thought in many parts of the world – perhaps more than ever – academics and academia needs to find ways to influence, shape, and educate in policy debates. I have no problem if we academics live in ivory towers, as long as it is not our only place of residence.

In this lecture, I discuss why this disconnect exists and what can be done about it.