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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


WESSELS, JS  and  PAUW, JC. The so-called "evidence-policy gap": The case of the De Lange report. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-2, pp.861-886. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article throws light on the literature about the evidence-policy gap in evidence-based or, as we are going to call it, research-informed policy following on the study of a classic case in South Africa, namely the so-called De Lange report on the provision of education in the RSA. The question is: to what extent did the said report serve as a basis for subsequent policy of the government of the day regarding education, and what was the role of the principal-agent relationship in this? An ongoing theme in the literature regarding research-informed policy (evidence-based policymaking) is the apparent inability of academics to influence policy with the results of their research. An investigation of the De Lange report therefore promises to supplement or refute elements of the literature. At the same time, this report comes from a period in the South African history when it foreshadowed the great changes, which would come a decade later in a striking manner, and which might even have partially initiated these changes. Our article may therefore also have intrinsic historiographic value. The article starts with a short overview of the literature, which is followed by an exposition of what we understand by the case study approach. After that, we discuss the origin, historical context, role players, course, results and outcome of the HSRC investigation into education. In searching for answers regarding the question about the extent to which the De Lange report gave direction to subsequent policy regarding education, we ask the following questions: • To what degree did the specific nature and intensity of interaction between members of the HSRC investigation and the policymakers determine the influence of the De Lange report on government policy? • To what degree did the spirit of the times and divergent policy agendas hamper or promote the acceptance of the recommendations in the De Lange report? The question regarding the influence of the specific nature and intensity of interaction between the HSRC role-players and the policymakers in government policy is guided by the literature about research-based policymaking. The preponderance of studies on this topic focuses on the interaction and supposed distance between policy advisers (researchers) and policymakers as explanation for the degree to which researchers succeed in convincing policymakers of the value of the research results. Although the nature of the interest groups within our case study corresponds to a large degree with what is described in the literature, this case shows a distinct overlap of interests between the interest groups which narrowed the "theoretical" gap between them in practice. There was in this case therefore no mention of a gap, which had to be bridged to convince the principal of the value of research. The literature regarding the distance between policy advisors and policymakers therefore does not explain this particular case. In order to promote the awareness and acceptance of the results and suggestions, the research team launched a comprehensive communication campaign, even before the official publication of the report. Probably as a result of its scientific integrity, the report could withstand the test of robust discussion and investigation. No conclusive evidence could be found that this campaign substantially strengthened the influence of the research report on the subsequent policy. It seems from the literature that strong divergent ideas, policy agendas, and political ideologies and interest groups could also influence the official reception of research-informed evidence. Hence, the question regarding the influence of the spirit of the times and divergent policy agendas on the acceptance of the suggestions in the De Lange report for policy. The interim education working party appointed by the government following the release of the De Lange report played a decisive role in preparing the research evidence for reception by government. This task team drafted a report, which translated the research report politically, before the official policy of government was published as a White Paper. This study shows that where the political principal was a senior person within the context of the Afrikaner Broederbond as well as the scientific community, he was relatively junior within the caucus and cabinet of the governing party, with the resulting limited personal influence. This, together with other issues, which at the time created an unfavourable party political climate for the principal, explain in part the time lapse between the submission of the De Lange report to the Minister in July 1981 and the introduction of the eventual policy in November 1983. These events, which influenced the period and extent of integration of the scientifically grounded recommendations in government policy and even legislation, confirm the doctrine of limited rationality in terms of policymaking. With its account of the HSRC investigation into education in South Africa, this article contributes to the use of the case study as approach to policy studies. Faithful to the nature of a case study, the article contributes to a context-rich description of the HSRC investigation into education as a case of research-backed policy. It is a distinctive case of how research results influence government policy. The extent and period of the influence between researchers and policymakers could clearly not be explained by means of the supposed gap between researchers and policymakers. The degree to which this research report did influence government policy also cannot be attributed to the appropriateness and validity of the scientific results. This study showed that the influence of the report on government policy could probably be attributed to the degree to which the integrity of the process could overcome the multiple party political obstacles within the specific historical context. The steady, fragmented, although sustained implementation of the results of the HSRC investigation into education in South Africa, is indeed a distinctive case which falls outside of the scope of the generally held theoretical views regarding research-backed policymaking.

Keywords : evidence-based policymaking; evidence-policy gap; policy studies; principal-agent relationship; reception; De Lange report; evidence; provision of education; Human Sciences Research Council; Afrikaner-Broederbond; F W de Klerk; Gerrit Viljoen.

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