In conversation with Dr Mustafa Hamarneh: evidence use in the Jordanian Parliament

15 February 2024
SERIES Voices of evidence users

This article is one of four conversations between Farah Al Hadid and Jordanian parliamentarians. The series comes at an exciting time, with the Jordanian Parliament on the cusp of transformational change.

In 2021, the Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System submitted its recommendations for political reform, including amendments to the political parties and election laws. The amendments, which were adopted by Parliament, will increase the involvement of political parties by increasing their share of parliamentary seats, as well as incentivise more women and young people to participate in elections. 

Amid these changes, parliamentarians in Jordan are also working to strengthen the parliament’s legislative and oversight functions by introducing evidence-informed policymaking. Effective evidence-based policies require the use of evidence during all stages of policymaking, including statistics and research, to equip decision-makers with the necessary skills to identify effective and beneficial evidence. 

In this conversation, Farah Al Hadid, talks with His Excellency Dr Mustafa Hamarneh, who has served as a Senator since 2020. Dr Hamarneh is an influential scholar and political analyst. He is Chief Executive Officer of the Jordan Media Institute since 2021 and was previously Chairman of the Economic and Social Council and Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan for over 15 years. He has also served as an Associate Professor at the Department of History at the University of Jordan and as a Professor at Georgetown University.

Let’s take the recent cybersecurity law, what kind of evidence was presented in the debate?

In the latest instance, the evidence is on very technical legal matters, where the lawyers among us raise the issues but they do not always go all the way. The discussions in the committee meetings are sometimes more vigorous but still lacking in research and evidence. 

Where can Senators get their information from?

I use my own academic background, I know where to look and I also have my own research assistant whom I hired. There is no research unit in the institution, and no staffers to support us with research.  

What are the obstacles for the establishment of a research centre in the Senate?

It’s a question of clarifying the mission of this institution and strengthening its oversight and legislative capacities. The Senate needs radical reform to fulfil its function as outlined in the Constitution. As long as the mission is not set, then there is no incentive to establish something like a research unit. 

Is there capacity in the Senate for an in-house research unit? Or should we outsource this function?

Not really, the existing staff needs training, especially in the social sciences. It is best to build a capable unit to support the work of Senators.

Is there something that academics can do better to inform policymaking in the Senate?

Policymakers have to be receptive. You can produce the best thing in the world, and nobody uses it. When I was an academic, we used to submit policy papers and monographs. 

In Jordan, we have strong academics. For example, when we worked on issues relating to climate change, we found good research within our universities. Nobody taps this resource unfortunately, and when we do, there is one conversation within a committee and that’s the end of it. 

Let’s talk about the Committee that you head, the public works committee. How do you ensure that the Committee uses evidence and research to support its work. 

We devised a strategic vision for each of the ministries attached to the committee. We brought in experts to discuss and amend this strategic vision with each minister. The ministries then come up with an executive plan linked to a timetable, and every three months, we sit down together and check the progress. It is working very well so far. 

How are the experts chosen to come up with the strategic vision?

We choose them, we know who they are. They are either well-known academics with established research, or they have long experiences in the sectors in which we are interested. 

We try to bring in experts with different views and try to build consensus on the direction we want to take. 

Are there ways in which the Senate can better support the evidence-based policymaking landscape?

In a recent meeting within the public services committee, a Minister raised an issue of knowledge gaps within the ministry. We had the idea to connect ministries to institutes that can provide them with the necessary research. So, we established a partnership with the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation [a knowledge institute with an associated library].  

We also had the idea to reach out to other ministries to ask about their knowledge gaps. This partnership with the Shoman Foundation has so far resulted in a policy paper on climate change, and we expect more policy papers in the future.

Thank you for your time Your Excellency.