My intervention in the COMMUNIA panel on Free culture research and policy making


COMMUNIA organized a panel to discuss the relationship between Free culture research and policy making as part of the 3rd Free culture research conference (Berlin, 8-9 October 2010). I am very proud they asked me to intervene together with Amelia Andersdotter, one of the “phantom MEPs” from the Swedish, Pirate Party; Renata Avila of Creative Commons Guatemala; Marcus Beckedahl, who runs about internet policy and politics; and, moderated by Juan Carlos de Martin of COMMUNIA.

Below you can find the notes of my intervention. What do you think?



Communia Panel: Free Culture Research and Policy


Notes intervention by Mayo Fuster Morell

My presentation will be framed by my experience on research in the discipline of sociology and political science. And the political context of Spain as part of Europe. Other lessons might emerge from a diverse background.

I thank you Juan Carlos de Martin for inviting me and also for conceiving this panel. This panel address an issue which is obviously very important; and at the same time, have received very limited attention by scholars. An indicator that illustrate this can be found in my own experience preparing this talk. I contacted Donatella della Porta – Professor at the European University Institute, who is a major scholar on political sociology with more than 20 years of experience developing empirical research; I also contacted Joan Subirats, which is the director of a research center on governance and policy-making based at Barcelona. I asked both the same question: Could you send me your writings on these issues?. Surprisingly, both answered me the same: “it is a key issue, but I have never wrote about this”.

Additionally, their position was quiet different in terms of the evaluation they made on their own experience; while Subirats (who works with a local base and in an specialized center, which combined basic research with applied research) was optimistic about research impact into policy-making; della Porta (who develop basic research in a traditional department of european level) was very pessimistic. I think their diverse assignment is not necessarily a contradiction; they develop research differently, so depending on the context and the type of research, research might have more impact or not.

Before reflect on which context and type of research might have more impact; let’s first address directly the question from my own view. If I think how to improve and create a fruitful dialog between free culture research and policy making the first that comes to my mind is that in order to improve the relationship between research and policy-making, you need to change two things: You need to change Academia and you need to change the political system.

I think both the University and the Political System is in an institutional crisis. One of the reasons of this crisis is that with their current institutionalization, they do not talk to each other. An indicator of this is that the university system does not value enough the applicability of research. For example, the applicability of the research is not a major criteria to assign curriculum in post-docs or for research funding.

In this regard, I think the expectation that is implied in the framing of this panel might be problematic. If you expect a direct and fluid dialogue between the single researcher developing research and policy-making, you might end up very pessimistic and frustrated.

To develop basic research and that a policy is changed (both questions) are very complex issues; furthermore, the current institutional context does not facilitate their connexion. For example, when I asked Donatella della Porta on her own experience, she said: “I know to do research, but I wouldn’t know how to better use research in the process of policy-making, there is the need of translators”. In sum, there is the need to think, not in direct terms, but in terms of intermediation, translators or/and channels between the two worlds.

On the one hand, there is the need the more appropriated context to develop applied research; on the other hand, there is the need to have direct interlocutors or possibility to influence in the political system: such as representative into the political institutions or processes of social mobilization.

In terms of the more adequate context to develop research, specialized centers of research and think thanks are in a much better position to do develop applied research and to do this translation, than University departments which mainly favor basic research and do nor incentive applicability. Furthermore, these type of centers developing applied research tend to have a more favoring context at the local and regional level, than at the european and international level. Because, among other reasons, the context of political opportunity for research at the local and regional level tend to be better. Political institutions tend to be more open in these two levels.

Here I could put the example of the Institute of Govern and Public Policy (IGOP) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, which I am part of. With 15 years of applied research on the field on several areas of policy making such as education and social exclusion, it can be fairly said they have an impact into policy making. It develops for example research in terms of indicators to evaluate the impact of policies. There are several reasons that might explain the ability of IGOP to impact public policies:

* It is an specialized center

* It combines basic research with applied research

* It is not independent politically.

In regard to the last point, if the IGOP is able to be sustained doing 15 years of applied research is because they have the capacity to influence the policy-making, maintaining relationship with political parties and with representative in political institutions. Maintaining relationships inside institutions does not only constitute a more direct inter-mediator, but it also determine the possibility to have funding for developing applied research. The funding for applied research is more difficult that come from the academic funding of basic research, than from sources linked to political institutions.

Here I might do a WARMING. Again I want to recall that my reflexions are framed in a context of Spain, also Italy, that is, in South Europe, where there would be much difficult to find funding to do anything which have to do with research on free culture than in Germany. Perhaps in Germany, the conclusion would be another one, because there are more options to develop applied research with more independence of political institutions.

In sum, to create and feed direct interlocutors and bridges inside political institutions is something to do. However, the possibilities to success having impact on the policy making depend on the political agenda (not the research agenda); and the political agenda is defined importantly by political priorities and ideological wills, and the political game, more than by research evidence.


Building relationships with movements: Research on/for social movements


Representatives inside political institutions is not the only way to channel research results. Another way is to build a relationship between process of social mobilization and research. Research can help the mobilization process. Actually, movements use research evidence to sustain their claims.

This is my own strategy. While developing my PhD on the governance of digital commons, I did not find interlocutors in order to try to put into practices the lessons emerging from my research. In this regard, I felt the need to contribute to the creation of the Free culture forum of Barcelona ( as a way to have a channel where to spread and put into practices my research results. The Fcforum had intervene in the policy making; as the Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge created in its frame was used in the negotiations with the Spanish Government and during the Spanish presidency of the European Union in 2010. Parts of the Charter were just a copy and past from my own PhD writing. In other words, the Fcforum was for me a possibilities to re-frame my research in a language and as part of a process, which more easily enter into the political conversation.

We need spaces for research (like the Free culture research conference). But also to build relationship and spread our research results in spaces of action; and create what Boaventura do Santos Sousa call “ecologies of knowledge“, that is put in connexion what emerge from different perspectives, that of the research and that of the action.

Even if the theory of social movements have some reluctant to conceive free software or free culture as a movement, I would like to recall the research tradition of action-participation research. The research design in applied research following an action-participation methodology is different: in its inputs, in its process and in the output.

+ In the input because the research question is defined by questions open up and defined as needs in mobilizations processes.

+ In the process because the researcher become more a facilitator of the research, than a director of it. Also in terms of time management: much more time is dedicated to build a relationship with actors, to spread the research and to translate it (in dialogue with the actors).

+ In its outputs because the priority becomes the accessibility to research: not only in terms of using open access forms, but also in terms of dialogging with two communities: the academic community with a research language and the activist community, relying research reports writing from the language of the action.

Research for raising social mobilization is necessary in order to bring knowledge into areas which would support the agenda of a free culture movement. Research can also be applied to know better the practices. For example, to understand how successes like Wikipedia work or what lessons can be learn also from failures. Create evidence of what work. But importantly, empirical research is also necessary to bring critical analysis about the agenda and believes of the free culture movement. Empirical research is a key source to feed a critical perspective. Activist arrogance “to know the true” can be very dangerous for the activist agenda itself. We have to depart from the insecurity of not being sure that what we thing is right; and that we don’t fully know the implications of free culture. We also need to embrace free culture risks and ambiguities.

However, we have to be also very certain that to develop rigorous research being politically committed to an issue is something doable. We don’t have to feel uncomfortable about it. Actually, it is much more common that political science researchers (of any topic) maintain a relationship, affinity or dialogue with political parties or movements, than the opposite.


Conclusions: A set of guidelines for the future


1) The relationship between research and policy making is an important issue, but there are very few systematic reflection done. There is the need to put attention into systematize what we know about this issue.

2) Not think of a direct connexions between them, but in terms of building intermediation, translators or/and channels between the two worlds.

3) Specialized centers and/or think thank at the local and regional level have more possibilities to develop applied research and have influence in the policy-making, than those of european/international character and/or developed in a general department which favor more basic research.

4) Create and feed direct interlocutors and bridges inside political institutions.

5) Build relationship between process of social mobilization and research in order to provide scientific evidence on movements believes, to question and adopt a critical approach to them; and, to put light on what actually works (independently of our believes).

6) In order to do so, to adopt the action-participation research tradition which favor the translation and the accessibility of the research.

7) To fully believe that developing rigorous research being politically committed to an issue is something doable.

However, even if following all of these guidelines is not a suficient condition of success. For example, on the issue of climate change, even if there is a quiet broad academic consensus on the issue and a social mobilization process, it had a limitation impact into the policy-making. The same can be said in regard to the war. In sum, to create the better conditions for research applicability listed above is the direction to follow; however, it is better not to rise too many expectations, because without a deep change in the political system the possibilities to have impact into the political process are very limited. These is one of the reasons why I think there is the need to create bridges between the free culture mobilization and other movements aiming to change the political system.