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April 27, 2015

The FutureWork Opinion Series - Olga Nottmeyer

In this opinion series, part of our FutureWork campaign, we are asking key figures from the IZA World of Labor community to speculate on the future of the global labor economic landscape. For our first installment, Olga Nottmeyer answers our questions.

1. What do you see as the most significant trends for the world of work in the next 5 years?
Governments and societies around the world are faced with significant migration of people. This includes: young graduates seeking jobs in other countries as there are too few opportunities in their home country; labor migrants; and refugees leaving their loved ones and risking their lives to look for jobs and a better future. This poses real challenges for both the sending and receiving countries. How can receiving societies cope with this influx of people? How can politicians help minimize bad feeling towards immigrants and refugees? On the other hand, what can be done in the countries of origin to solve the problems that lead to outmigration and flight? How can governments offer people, especially the young, new hope and prospects of success in their country so that they don’t need to seek it elsewhere?

2. What is the biggest policy challenge facing decision makers in your field and in your region?
Immigration is one of the most pressing challenges faced by decision makers in Germany. There are ongoing demonstrations against immigrants (mostly in regions with a relatively small foreign population) which are provoking xenophobic fears at a time when Germany is faced with a severe shortage in high-skilled workers. So for Germany to become more attractive for high-skilled workers, decision makers need to find ways to raise acceptance and tolerance in order to build an immigrant-friendly environment. Similarly, Germany’s schooling system must be improved to allow children to fully develop, independent of their social and cultural background. It is only once these issues have been addressed that both natives and immigrants can benefit from what Germany has to offer.

3. Why is more evidence-based debate and policy making needed?
To guarantee good policy making, decisions should not be based on selected opinions and anecdotes, or on what lobbyists advocate, but on sound empirical evidence. It is one of the fundamental purposes of research to provide an impartial perspective, independent of political and emotional debates. These findings should provide the basis for “good” decision making (in economic theory this would relate to the “omniscient decision maker”). Only by looking at the data can we counter myths and common misconceptions. Hence, evidence can support certain arguments and hypotheses, and assist policymakers to make informed decisions that can really benefit the people. In order to evaluate the effectiveness or to detect unintended side-effects of different policy measures, empirical analyses are indispensable.

4. What are the biggest barriers to policymakers adopting evidence-based decision making and how can they be overcome?
Researchers are often too concerned with technical issues such as estimation methods or data specifics. This is of course very important in order to generate robust and reliable results, but in their academic disputes they get lost in details that are irrelevant for policymakers and practitioners in the “real world.” On the other hand, decision makers can be too impatient to wait for robust research. Often this leads to a miscommunication meaning researchers and politicians talk at cross-purposes. Resolving this tension is a big challenge. But formats like IZA World of Labor aim to mediate by “translating” research findings into what practitioners need to know.

5. What are the biggest opportunities of wider adoption of evidence-based policy making?
There are two important implications of a wider adoption of evidence-based policy making. Firstly, researchers and politicians can gain a mutual understanding of what the other party needs. This will ideally lead to researchers being more able to answer pertinent questions for policymakers, and politicians being able to help researchers by financing new data collections and research projects. Secondly, as a consequence, policies can be better evaluated in the future, which will help with finding best practices and introducing effective policy measures. Once these measures are in place, they will be highly beneficial for society.

© Olga K. Nottmeyer

Look out for more opinions from IZA World of Labor experts throughout this week. Follow us on social media to keep up to date with our FutureWork campaign, and tweet your opinions to us @IZAWorldOfLabor

Please note:
We recognize that IZA World of Labor articles may prompt discussion and possibly controversy. Opinion pieces, such as the one above, capture ideas and debates concisely, and anchor them with real-world examples. Opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of the IZA.