Why policy networks don’t work (the way we think they do)

Blog by James Georgalakis: “Is it who you know or what you know? The literature on evidence uptake and the role of communities of experts mobilised at times of crisis convinced me that a useful approach would be to map the social network that emerged around the UK-led mission to Sierra Leone so it could be quantitatively analysed. Despite the well-deserved plaudits for my colleagues at IDS and their partners in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Wellcome Trust and elsewhere, I was curious to know why they had still met real resistance to some of their policy advice. This included the provision of home care kits for victims of the virus who could not access government or NGO run Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).

It seemed unlikely these challenges were related to poor communications. The timely provision of accessible research knowledge by the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform has been one of the most celebrated aspects of the mobilisation of anthropological expertise. This approach is now being replicated in the current Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Perhaps the answer was in the network itself. This was certainly indicated by some of the accounts of the crisis by those directly involved.

Social network analysis

I started by identifying the most important looking policy interactions that took place between March 2014, prior to the UK assuming leadership of the Sierra Leone international response and mid-2016, when West Africa was finally declared Ebola free. They had to be central to the efforts to coordinate the UK response and harness the use of evidence. I then looked for documents related to these events, a mixture of committee minutes, reports and correspondence , that could confirm who was an active participant in each. This analysis of secondary sources related to eight separate policy processes and produced a list of 129 individuals. However, I later removed a large UK conference that took place in early 2016 at which learning from the crisis was shared.  It appeared that most delegates had no significant involvement in giving policy advice during the crisis. This reduced the network to 77….(More)”.