In our view, academics and funders need extra guidance in working with policymakers (see C. Tyler Nature 552, 7; 2017). This would improve the design of policy-relevant research and help to counter political criticism of academia.
Government ministers rarely have time to build relationships with scientists. Instead, policy analysts in government departments collect information, craft papers for internal discussion and condense these into policy briefs.
These civil servants are typically asked to produce discussion papers on areas outside their expertise within a week (see, for example, M. Howlett and J. Newman in Policy Work in Canada 58–76 (Univ. Toronto Press, 2017)). They therefore rely on the most readily available information, including non-peer-reviewed and Internet sources. These might be out of date, flawed or biased. Being able instead to draw on established relationships with scientists would result in policy being developed from a broad and reliable evidence base.
We therefore recommend that academics identify and cultivate relationships with the policy analysts who source raw material for the political machine.
Nature 555, 165 (2018)