Published on People Move

Best practice vs a menu of policy options – and the KNOMAD process

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What if “best practice” policy did not exist, and a policy maker just went ahead and implemented one? In doing so, would (s)he run the risks associated with inferences drawn from an empty set? For example, “nothing is better than eternal happiness; a ham sandwich is better than nothing; therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness”?

Many policy makers and development experts are looking for “best practice”. And yet, not unlike nirvana, the best practice – a best practice? – may simply not be achievable in a lifetime, and certainly not within the electoral cycle in a modern democracy.  Besides, a practice which is best according to a certain metric may fail to be best according a different metric. Therefore, a best practice policy may not actually exist, or if it does, it may be a difficult sell to the electorate.

In the absence of a “best practice”, it is better perhaps to look for a menu of policy options with a clear description of the pros and the cons. The policy maker would then carefully weigh the trade-offs and if (s)he succeeds in making a selection, (s)he would have the arguments needed to get the buy-in from the voters.

Designing policy options to address development issues is perhaps more difficult than designing a “best practice”. While the knowledge process for designing the best practice is based on a partnership among experts who think alike, that for designing a menu of policy options would require inviting experts and critics to offer differing and even controversial views.

In the area of migration, such a task quickly crosses the boundaries of geography and disciplines. Issues relating to cultural and national identity, sovereignty and security of nations, and individual pain and pleasure are intimately intertwined with migration policy challenges. Policy formulation drawn from a single discipline (e.g. economics or sociology), therefore, is unlikely to adequately address issues that fall under other disciplines (e.g. political science or anthropology). The knowledge process for designing policy options in the field of migration and development, therefore, should be multidisciplinary.

Making sense out of many opposing and critical views of experts from different disciplines that use different tools and metrics can, understandably, be a serious challenge in developing policy options. One possible way forward is to institute a rigorous process of multidisciplinary peer review.

The Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD)aims to be a global public good; an inclusive, multidisciplinary partnership to which experts with opposing views are invited and all outputs are subjected to rigorous peer review, all with a view to generating a menu of policy options in the area of migration and development.

KNOMAD is currently in the Inception Phase. Two major global experts meetings will take place soon – Dec 3-4, 2012 in Geneva and Dec 10-11, 2012 in Washington D.C. The Implementation Phase will begin in April 2013.


Dilip Ratha

Lead Economist and Economic Adviser to the Vice President of Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, World Bank

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