PLAAS does use-oriented basic research, seeking to ask fundamental questions in social science to inform practical decisions in society. PLAAS’s research is value-based: we do our research in an effort to support social justice and equitable change in our society. Practically, this means we do research to inform policymaking and democratic policy debate on key social policies.
Since 1995, PLAAS researchers have engaged with policy processes, working closely with various government departments as national and provincial advisors, as consultants in programme design or project facilitation, as reviewers or evaluators, and as policy workshop facilitators. Researchers have also critiqued different policies, published articles and academic papers, participated in public debates, and made presentations at policy-oriented workshops and conferences. In recent years PLAAS staff have been active in several civil society alliances in the land reform sector, and have contributed to deepening NGO and CBO understanding of key policy issues. (See the policy engagement archive for more information about the early days).
From 2007, the institute focused policy dialogue activities and interventions to add coherence and learning to our policy engagement practices. Our approach to learning-by-doing allows us to challenge our own and others’ assumptions about policy, policy processes, and ‘bridging gaps’ between research and policy, and results in a more critical, realistic approach to the research–policymaking nexus. Our understanding is informed by awareness of interests, values, ideologies, and other messy dimensions of human relationships, how these shape the way research is done and how policy is made, and the relationships between the two realms. We aim to go beyond the simplistic assumptions of dominant ‘evidence based policymaking’ discourses, which focus narrowly on a technicist model - assuming policy to be neutrally informed by best practice. Instead, PLAAS aims to critically reflect on and investigate: what approaches are most useful to improving policy engagement, influencing how people understand social reality, and making (policy) decisions that fit well with reality and people’s needs?
- research dissemination through publications, events, media and social media;
- cultivating trusting and critical partnerships with key government decision makers and non-governmental donor agencies;
- publicly participating in policy debate, working with organisations that represent particular interest groups, and citizens in general; and
- developing a broader framework of learning from our practice and exploring exisiting policy engagements theories and ‘models in use’.
From late 2011, we have also been adding international and national policy documents to our bibliography of documents available on the site.