Welcome to the Voices of evidence users interview series, offering first-hand insights from the people who use evidence in decision-making.
In this conversation, OTT talks to Vinicius Campos, Strategic Projects and Policy Advisor at the Parana State Department of Education in Brazil.
Vinicius recently concluded a dissertation on evidence use in Brazilian education policy as part of a master’s degree in government, politics and policy at Birkbeck, University of London.
Prior to his role at the Department for Education, he worked as an education policy analyst at Movimento Profissão Docente, developing and implementing teaching policies through partnerships with state departments of education.
Before that, he worked as a political analyst in a public affairs consultancy company.
1. Tell us about your role, highlighting what types of evidence you use and how. What is your organisation’s role?
I currently work as a strategic projects and policies advisor at the Parana State Department of Education. A big part of my role involves monitoring the implementation of new projects and policies, which demands the search for appropriate information to determine success or failure.
As a state-level executive body, the focus of work is on policy implementation, which differs from other organisational arrangements, where policy formulation and evaluation are the key concerns.
In terms of evidence use, I would qualify two main approaches: (1) evidence review and synthesis for decision-making (results-based approach) and (2) evidence generation for monitoring of policy implementation (process-based approach).
One example of the first approach would be the review of large-scale educational evaluation results for the determination of pedagogical interventions.
And an example of the second approach would be the collection and analysis of students’ attendance rate during a given month.
2. Can you give an example of a key recent policy debate in your sector, something you were involved in? What role did evidence play in that debate? What type of evidence was it/who provided it?
A powerful example of the role of evidence in education is the recent debate on the impact of educational technologies on student learning outcomes.
It is no doubt that technology is an irrevocable part of today’s children and teens, but how does that affect their education? Is it better to reduce or promote device use inside the classroom environment?
These questions are currently the focus of research, and yet we still face a high level of uncertainty and ambiguity in terms of the scientific evidence available.
A recent report by UNESCO has called for a global ban of smartphones in schools, contradicting expectations of many policymakers and experts that technology would be an ally of the educational process.
As one of the few major publications on the topic at an international political level, it had an enormous impact on educational policy in countries such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Given that it still soon to evaluate appropriately the manifold impacts of technology use in the educational process, evidence then becomes a small part of a bigger equation, where a mix of political preferences and local applicability of available information work together to define educational policies.
3. What are the main challenges and opportunities you see for embedding evidence systematically into the policymaking process?
One of the major challenges in embedding evidence into the educational policymaking process in the case of Brazil is the heterogeneity of its educational landscape, potentialised by multiple inequalities in its student population.
Evidence of the positive impacts of full-time schools in the state of Pernambuco may reflect local context specificities, which will be only partially applicable to schools in Acre, for example. It is highly important to dissect and stratify research results on educational outcomes in the context of developing countries like Brazil (or Latin America, in general).
On the other hand, Brazil presents a quite unique landscape of institutions and initiatives that provide high-quality, historically traceable data, from micro to macro level, providing sources for accurate policy diagnostics.
However, the interpretation, analysis and subsequent elaboration of policy alternatives based on such data requires specific competencies and skills that are not yet organised systematically into the Brazilian Public Service.
We have taken steps in the right direction with the strengthening of the Council for Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Policies (CMAP) and the creation of the Evidence Express service of the National School of Public Administration, and the recent creation of the Brazilian Coalition for the Use of Evidence. But we still have a long way ahead.
4. Are there any current/recent crises or transitions that you feel have affected/changed the discussion around how research and evidence feeds into policy in your country?
Yes. In the educational policy domain, specifically, there are three cases where evidence and research were decisive to policy formulation and implementation.
The first one is the approval of the new constitutional mechanism for public education funding, approved by a majority in Congress, with a high degree of influence from research. My dissertation covers this exact topic.
The second one is the maintenance of racial quotas for university admissions, a highly politicised policy, which was secured mostly by the strong and almost unanimous research results of its positive economic and social impact, where scientific evidence was a major source of power for policy continuity.
And the third one is the recent approval of a federal law that creates a conditional savings account for high schoolers, based on attendance rates and socioeconomic level.
The political debate was very much influenced by the robust body of evidence showing the benefits of investing public money in combatting school dropout.
These three cases demonstrate that evidence can and does feed into policy in Brazil. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that policymaking is always permeated by values, ideas and power imbalances, so no technocratic utopia is either viable or desirable.
5. What advice do you have for researchers hoping to see their work inform policy?
As a person working closely with the locus where policy happens, I would say that for researchers to inform policy, it is indispensable to speak the language of policymakers. Knowledge translation is a key capacity.
At the same time, different types of evidence may fit in different stages of the policy cycle and satisfy different needs of decision-makers. I would say to think as a state secretary or minister: does this evidence help me to understand better the problem at hand, or does it show me which solution works better for an already defined problem?
On top of that, adapting globally generated evidence into locally based policy proposals might also be a good way to inform policies.
Generating, interpreting and communicating evidence on those terms might facilitate the integration of important information into government delivery.