Public Policy Occasional Lecture Series on Social Policy by Professor Robert Walker
Robert Walker, a Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College visited the National Law School India University for a special guest lecture on ‘Research Methodologies and Social Policy’. He shared his experiences carrying out scientific research for governmental and private bodies.
Professor Walker has worked with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) in the past, and has contributed to the field of Social Policy since April 2006. He also formerly taught at the University of Nottingham. In addition, he has served extensively as a Research Affiliate at the National Poverty Centre, University of Michigan and also as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was a Member of the statutory UK Social Security Advisory Committee for 10 years until 2012 and chaired the Academic Advisory Committee during the design and launch of the ESRC UK Household Longitudinal Study. He is currently a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the evaluation of Universal Credit. His career is an inspiration to many researchers and students to conduct high quality research for informing the political process and improving policy. He undertakes research relevant to the development of welfare policies in Britain and other countries, and engages in dialogue with policymakers who support research to bring about positive change. His particular research interests include poverty, social exclusion, children’s aspirations and employment instability.
In his lecture at NLSIU, he began by saying, “Do not believe all that I say,” ushering the urge in students to be curious, question things and accept ideas after rigorous research. He talked about the controversial Brexit policy, the use of cash transfers within the anti-poverty policy domain, and the differences in research methods between the Global North and Global South over the past decade. He shared insights on the new strategy to anti-poverty efforts in the Global South, which reflect a contemporary neo-liberal agenda and have seen success in Latin America. A comparative, qualitative study led by Prof. Walker moved across five settings – two in the Global North (Norway, the UK) and three in the South (China, India, and South Korea). Prof. Walker went on to share some real-life obstacles and probable solutions to qualitative and quantitative research problems.
While talking about a range of interesting and efficiency-related aspects of a welfare state, it was also discussed how the nature of an organization which initiates the research matters a lot. The session however, was rightly aimed at showcasing how a ‘productive’ or ‘efficient’ research is to be carried out and what tools are available to a researcher. (A productive research is the one which carries adequate evidences and supports the analysis, on which a policy can be devised or a law can be enacted.)
He cited examples from his research paper, which reflected targeted policy analysis and interviewed recipients in the settings under investigation. Specific focus is placed on the potential for measures to shame or heighten the dignity of recipients. He wanted to convey how claimants who are already vulnerable may undermine the efficacy of the measure offered.
The discussion revolved around topics from incentivizing research participation to dealing with bureaucracy in a government initiated public policy research. One of the MPP students also went on to ask, “Should a researcher keep his emotions, first hand-experiences at bay or can he use his policy approach paper to give a certain direction for the desired policy.” A debate emerged as it is seen that most of the time a policy paper or research survey does not result in the construction of a policy as recommended. In the end, a researcher has a limited say in the making of a policy which can have a significant impact on public welfare.
(Soumya Gupta is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University and is in the 2017-2019 batch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)