Towards a culture of quality policymaking in transition countries.

The case of education


- Research proposal -


  1. Topic


The title of this research proposal is Towards a culture of quality policymaking in transition countries. The case of education and falls under the 8th subject area in the call for proposals: Policy Making in Transition Contexts: The Leslie Carol Eliason Memorial Fellowship.  


  1. Motivation and description of the context


The main reason which motivates this research and the main challenge that determined the application is a previous team research under LGI policy fellowship started in 2002 focused on decentralization in education in transition countries, performed together with colleagues from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Poland and Estonia, under the mentoring of Mr. Peter Rado from Hungary.

The whole exchange of ideas among us and the main findings of our investigations, focused on identifying the systemic conditions for strategic steering and quality policy making in education in transition countries, finally brought into attention an extremely interesting transition process in public policymaking, visible inside the specific countries, but also the approximate repetition of the same steps by each country, according to the actual level of their political, social, economic and not least educational reforms.


A whole culture of quality policymaking in education started to develop, and a transition can be observed from a contemplative culture, deeply rooted in the communist years, but also in the broader and more subtle social and everyday life culture of Balkans and Slavic countries, towards an evaluative policy culture, more close to the western values and, generally, to the values of globalization. This unique policy environment offered by transition contexts and the possibility to capture and describe such a process as development of a quality policymaking culture could contribute to avoid a double danger that is obvious for those who studied the realities in post-communist countries:   


·         A schizophrenic evolution in the field of public policy, generated by the two-sided reality build in the last years and the gap between the policy discourse, on the one side and the effective implementation practices on the other side. The public policy development is only partly self-generated, as a need of the different sectors in their improvement efforts. There was and there still is a huge pressure, coming from political and financial “dependencies” of these countries: negotiation chapters with the European Union, structural adjustments imposed by World Bank and International Monetary Fund etc.


·         Repetition of the same pathway and, implicitly, of the same mistakes by different countries situated at different development levels in their political, social and economic growth. The labyrinth of transition, even it looks so different from one country to the other, in the field of public policy development we had the possibility to note many similar evolutions that would make possible and fruitful the investigation of main characteristics and trends of public policy development.


We make reference to a culture of quality policymaking because we strongly believe that in transition context the quality of policymaking process is not primarily a technical problem of those involved, but a cultural problem, deeply rooted in the capacity to link discourse and practice, to ‘merge’ what we say and what we actually do.


The actualized and “European” or “global” discourse of policymakers in transition contexts, very knowledgeable about language and theory of public policy,  is not necessarily a guarantee for the successful implementation of development programs in these countries.


The basic assumption that we have is that policymaking in education is more likely to produce high quality results if there is a mature policy system in place. By mature policy system we understand that some conditions are met in the process of development and implementation of educational policies:

  1. Technical-functional conditions: there is in place a clear policy cycle, with defined steps which are followed constantly by those involved in the process. The policy process, therefore, takes place according to an internal functional logic, visible and acknowledged by participants.
  2. Conceptual conditions: there is a common language used in the policymaking, there is agreement of those involved regarding the common understanding of main concepts specific to the field. In other words, a community of discourse is created and allows participants to “speak the same language” of educational policy.  This community of discourse and conceptual maturity of policymaking process can be observed in the basic / key policy documents of the educational system.
  3. Professional conditions: there is in place an institutional framework in charge with policy processes in education. There could be a wide variety of institutional arrangements: specialized units at Ministry of Education level or at the level of regional / local educational authorities; specialized institutes or agencies subordinated to MoEs; NGOs or think tanks focused on policy analysis, development and evaluation. Another option could be a “soft” institutionalization of policymaking: policy responsibilities assigned to professionals at different levels. So the degree of institutionalization could be considered a sign of maturity.  In the same direction could be added the participation and consultation mechanisms used in the policy process.


Having in mind these three directions, we will investigate the maturity level of educational policymaking systems in Poland and Romania, tracking the process of articulation of a policymaking culture in these transition contexts. Primary data collection will be undertaken in these two countries and documentary studies of basic educational policy documents from other transition countries will be pursued: Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia etc.  


Since education is one of the most dynamic and present public spheres in development efforts and programs, with a huge impact not only on a large number of people, but also with a long term impact, we thought that this would be a good case study that will allow for analogies and transfers towards what public policy generally means. 



  1. The research problem


3.1.  The general research problem

The general research problem of this proposal is linked to the process of policymaking in transition contexts, namely to the investigation of the level of development of the policymaking system in education.

We choose as a case study the field of education, with the intention to make analogies and transfers towards other public spheres and to try to underline the general framework and the coordinates of building a quality policymaking culture, as a joint result of internal development and external pressures.   


3.2.   Definition of the research problem


This research aims to investigate the process of development of a mature policymaking system in transition contexts and, based on that, the articulation of a policymaking culture. We plan to analyze the technical-functional, conceptual and professional development of this process, directly in two countries:

o        Poland: central European former communist country, with very challenging developments in the field of education (accelerated evolution towards decentralization, focus on quality assurance, priority for improvement of teaching and learning). Poland recently joined the EU but all data shows that the real transition didn’t stop as result of this political will. Having a social and everyday life culture more influenced by western world and catholic values, Poland is still plotting its path towards success.

o        Romania: maybe the country with the most fragmented developments and evolutions after the fall of communism, situated at the crossroads of the Central - East European and Balkan cultures, a Latin country surrounded by Slavic neighbors. Romania is now in the pre-accession stage to the EU, integration being expected to happen in 2007. Pre-university education reform in Romania is often given as example of success by the World Bank, but the struggles between coherent development and the so-called schizophrenic evolution is not decided yet in one direction or another.

This direct and in-depth study will be complemented by study of basic educational policy documents from other transition countries in the region (Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia etc., according to availability).


The different stages of different countries could be visible in terms of:

o        Stage of transition (general one, but especially educational), i.e. functioning of new institutions and management systems.

o        Level of maturity of policymaking process, i.e. competency of policy developers, separation between politics and policy.

o        Degree of transition from a contemplative policy culture (discursive / ideological, control-based, eruptive / pressure-oriented, routine-oriented) towards a quality, evaluative policy culture (reflexive / action oriented, trust-based, evolutive / strategically oriented, creative / innovation oriented). 



3.3.  The research questions

The main research question is What is the level of development / maturity of the educational policymaking systems in Romania and Poland (according to the three criteria or perspectives defined above) and to what extent we can detect articulation of a policymaking culture as a result of this maturation process?


Subsequent to this question, we will also try to answer questions such as:

·         What are the steps of the policy cycle followed and what are the steps ignored? How functional is the articulation between different steps?

·         To what extent is a policy language created and used on a regular basis? Do the structure and language of basic policy documents prove a mature and sound process of policymaking?

·         What are the institutions involved in educational policymaking? How are they structured and what functions do they have?

·         What are the main tools used by policymakers to ensure the strategic steering and quality policy making? (regulation and deregulation mechanisms, financial incentives and disincentives, professional self-regulation, standards and benchmarks, targeted development programs, planning and cooperation networks etc.)


3.4. The working hypothesis                  

1.       There is a process of development, in transition contexts / countries, of a mature policymaking system which makes the ground for articulation of a policymaking culture.

a.       If there is such a process in policymaking, it will be visible in educational field and describing this transition in education will allow, using analogical reasoning, to draw conclusions about policymaking in the public sector in general (with necessary methodological precautions).


2.       The technical-functional maturity of the policymaking in education varies according to different steps in the policy process and from one country to another.


3.       There is a relation between the quality of the policymaking in education and the level of institutional, conceptual and technical-functional maturity of the policy process.


4.       There is a large amount of transferable experience in the field of public policymaking among transition countries situated at different levels of development of at different stages of transition.


The objective of the research is to formulate evidence-based conclusions and inferences about these research questions and working hypothesis. 


5.       Research methodology & procedures


Having regard that the research has (at least) a regional dimension, we have in mind three modalities to gather and then interpret data for answering the research questions and test the hypotheses:


  1. In-depth interviews with selected specialist in educational policy and decision makers in education (approximately 5-7 for Poland and 10 for Romania). The interviewees will be selected according to the challenges in the answers to questionnaires and the interview will be conducted in the attempt to enrich and clarify from a qualitative point of view the information gathered through questionnaire. English-speaking persons will be selected for the interview.


  1. Questionnaire applied to policymakers / specialists in education / recognized experts. A number of approximately 15 people will be subject to this questionnaire in Poland and 30 in Romania (“host” country). For subjects from Poland the questionnaire will be translated and applied / answered using a local contact person. The subjects of the questionnaire will represent two main categories, balanced as much as possible: public clerks / servants working in Ministries of education or sub-ordinate institutions, on the one side and independent educational experts, outside politics, working for NGOs, Universities etc., on the other side.



3. A key role in the research process will be played by documentary research. A basis for this is provided by the background offered by the LGI research on decentralization in education and further documentation will be pursued during research. Because of the large number of internationally financed projects, a significant number of policy documents are translated into English. There is previous analysis and research on transition contexts already done that will be used.

When necessary, as result of the questionnaires and interviews, translation of key policy documents will be arranged.


Another important factor is also the personal experience that I gather as consultant working in these two countries and having a clear idea about the educational policy context there.


5. Outcomes of the research. Relevance and utility of results


The main outcome of this research will consist in an educational policy analysis, grounded in the realities of three transition countries (especially Poland and Romania, as a ‘host’ country of the author). This policy analysis will describe the mechanisms of transition, specific to the process of policy making in education, towards a culture of quality policymaking in this public field, with policy recommendations for the three countries and for the transition contexts in general

The results will have

·         A regional relevance, having regard the three representative countries selected for the study;

·         A trans-regional relevance, given the possibility to use thee results in other transition contexts;

·         A field-specific relevance, taking into account that policy making in education is being studied.

·         A cross-field relevance, beyond education and with a clear opening towards the policy making in the public sphere in general.


The results of the investigation would be of use both for specialists and policy makers from transition contexts, but also for the very large number of consultants and experts from the other countries working in or for transition countries, especially as technical assistance in different donor projects.


6. Potential risks

  • Willingness to answer the questionnaires and availability to take part in interviews of the experts from Poland and Serbia. A limited number of them were already contacted and asked and they gave their agreement in principle.
  • Access to all relevant information in English from Serbia and Poland.