Promoting density: a few good examples from Britain, the US, and Australia

9 April 2013

A few months ago I wrote about an alternative to the demand, supply and intermediary model: the density model. Crucial to this approach is the development of spaces (virtual or otherwise) in which a lot of high quality information and knowledge is produced and shared. It is in the constant and long-term interaction among various social, political, and economic players, in the public debate of an issue or idea, that evidence based ideas make it into decisions and choices.

I suggested that this particular approach was relevant to initiatives such as AusAid’s Knowledge Sector Initiative in Indonesia; but also to an upcoming DFID project to support economic policy debate in Zambia.

These are three examples of what can be done:

  • VoxEU: this is probably the most authoritative and relevant economic research space across the world. It is edited to ensure high quality and presented in an accessible way to reach a broad audience (some posts get upwards of 300,000 views). And at a budget close to GBP50,00o is probably the most value for money portal I know of.
  • The Salt: this is a blog specialised on the political economy and science of food. Staffed by professional journalists and scientists (and often scientific journalists) it effectively brings together great ideas with issues of public interest. It has the backing of  NPR but it could be replicated by any medium size media organisation. The editorial competence of the The Salt is particularly important. It is not just a channel for anything researchers and experts want to communicate -which is what The Guardian’s Development portal has become (and which has helped to dumb down the British Aid Industry which is not expected to defend its arguments)- but another player in the field of food policy, business, and science.
  • The Conversation:  this is an Australian initiative -so AusAid need not look far for inspiration- that brings together universities, the private sector, and the State to communicate evidence based commentary and analysis -and even research briefs direct to the public. DFID, too, should look at this, and VoxEU, as an alternative to the trully unhelpful R4D: listing papers is not the same as informing! I hear that the Conversation is going to be replicated in other countries -I hope it is true.

Why are these important? The Conversation puts it this way:

Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations.

Think tanks would greatly benefit from having such organisations or initiatives in their countries or sectors. They would offer them with opportunities that they themselves, and on their own, cannot realise.