Nov 1, 2021: Gita Steiner-Khamsi

Monday, November 1, 2021 at 14:15-15:45 (UTC+2): 

What does the surplus of data do to policy making?”

Gita Steiner-Khamsi is Professor of Comparative and International Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York (fall semesters) and at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva (spring semesters). She is a past president of the Comparative and International Education Society.

We live in an era in which evidence-based policy and monitoring are expected to be the norm rather than the exception. Even though the initiatives to develop global databanks date back to the mid-1990s (see Diane Stone, 2003; P. W. Jones, 2007), the development of global public goods (GPGs) such as openly accessible international toolkits, documents, studies and databanks in education has only begun to proliferate over the past ten years or so.

There are different approaches to studying this fascinating phenomenon. A straightforward research avenue begins with the assertion that—in policy making—the surplus of data translates into a “surplus of evidence” (Christopher Lubienski, 2019: 70). In this approach, policy actors are the units of analysis and the researcher examines whose knowledge government officials use when justifying their policy/political decision. Adopting a critical perspective when using policy actors as the analytical unit, one may argue that the surplus of data necessitates and in effect authorizes democratic governments to selectively use “evidence” as they see fit. Gita Steiner-Khamsi starts out the seminar with findings from the POLNET study (based at the University of Oslo and funded by the Research Council of Norway) that bibliometrically investigates whether and how governments use the vast number of published policy studies, reports, and reviews. Introducing a hierarchization of evidence (with numbers ranking top), favoring sponsored/institutional research over academic research (mode 2 versus mode 1 research), placing great attention to the source of information, or referencing national OECD country reports as a quasi-external source for generating reform pressure are just a few of the features of “selective data borrowing” observed across the Nordic region.

The distributed text “What is in a reference? Theoretically understanding the uses of evidence in education policy” is a chapter from a forthcoming edited volume of the POLNET study.

A less travelled road is the focus on the performativity of a (new) phenomenon, whereby the data surplus is seen as an actant: how has the surplus of data transformed policy making in terms of policy actors (public versus private), agenda setting (local versus global), types of school reform (input versus outcomes orientation), as well as civic engagement and participation in school reform? Time permitting, the presentation also reflects on methodological tools on how the relationship between science and politics, expertise and law, evidence and policy may be empirically investigated.

Suggested reading before the lecture:

Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2021) What is in a Reference? Theoretically Understanding the Uses of Evidence in Education Policy. In Karseth, B., Sivesind, K. and Steiner-Khamsi (Eds. Forthcoming, 2021). Evidence and Expertise in Nordic Education Policies: A Comparative Network Analysis from the Nordic Region. New York: Palgrave. Steiner-Khamsi, 2021