Think-tanks or museums

Here’s where I spent the morning:   HASS On the Hill.
One reason I went is because I’d like to know how to get policy-makers and implementers interested in the information that university researchers have on matters like – language education, mother tongue medium instruction…

Before it started, I caught up with a Chinese colleague who told me of her latest project, to translate a book on Aboriginal society and culture into Chinese. She was looking for a reputable Chinese publisher, and was saying regretfully that this would need Guānxì 關係 (connections, networks, relationships, influence).

Then we were addressed by:

  • 1 current public servant (Terry Moran, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which – for readers outside of Australia – means a very large cheese indeed, the person who runs the Australian federal public service)
  • 1 former public servant now public policy researcher and university administrator(Peter Shergold)
  • 1 politician (Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research)

What I learned can be expressed as four Q&As.

Q:   How can university researchers influence public policy creating and implementation?
A:    With great difficulty.

Q:    Why?

  1. Public servants and politicians (P&P) have to make policy fast. University researchers often don’t provide research on time.
  2. P&P don’t have time to read much. University researchers often write inaccessibly and in inaccessible journals.
  3. P&P have to work out policies in secret because otherwise their adversaries will seize on work-in-progress and use it to destroy acceptance of the policy. University researchers are a chatty lot and not good at keeping research/policy advice secret.

Q:    So where do P&P go when they want swift, accessible research that won’t be spread around?
A:    Strategic consulting firms. Think-tanks.

Q: What can we do?
A: Create personal relationships…..

Guānxì 關係 all over again.

Here’s where I wish I’d spent the morning
National Museum of Australia: A tribute to Bob Edwards
I got there just in time for the closing session, in which a politician (John Bannon), a bookseller (Michael Treloar) and Bob Edwards himself talked of how an orchardist became curator at the South Australian Museum, founding director of the Museum of Victoria, of the Aboriginal Arts Board, shaped the present of museums in Australia today, and still remained a nice guy. The charm that sold cucumbers, along with his knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal art and culture,  became the vital ingredients in selling governments and philanthropists on the need to support our heritage.

China, Australia, publishers, museums, language policy, in the end it’s always Guānxì 關係. When coupled with knowledge, enthusiasm, efficiency and honour, it works to all our benefit. When not..

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