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What joining the European Social Survey means for social science research and evidence-informed policy making in Serbia. In conversation with Professor Dragan Stanojević.

The Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Belgrade has a long history. It was established in 1838 and today it is located in a modern building in downtown Belgrade. I went there to meet Dragan Stanojević, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology. I wanted to meet him because he led the initiative that resulted in Serbia joining the European Social Survey in 2017. The ESS, as it is known, is the most comprehensive cross-national survey that measures the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior patterns of the European population. I wanted to talk to him to understand what the ESS means for the Serbian research community and its significance for evidence informed policy making in the country.

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As an academician and a social science researcher, what are the main changes you have observed during the last 15 years in Serbia? 

After a decade of political, economic, and international isolation during the nineties, the early 2000s marked the beginning of a new page in the history of the country with opening towards the European Union and also new opportunities for researchers and universities to be part of international research projects. However, the economic crisis which started in 2008, has somehow slowed down these positive changes and today Serbia, as well as other countries in the Western Balkans and Southern Europe, suffers from a weakening of social welfare systems and a migration of young and educated people overseas which involves also researchers from our universities.

What do you think is the current contribution that social science research is making to policy decisions in Serbia?

Policy impact is not always the main goal for academic researchers. At the same time, academic research does often address important policy issues such as social inequality, social inclusion (or exclusion), and economic growth. Unfortunately, the policy contribution of social sciences research in Serbia is not yet sufficiently recognized among researchers and policy actors.

Currently, there is limited discussion about the contribution that research from universities and social science institutes can make to policy decisions. Most of the policy research used in policy debates comes from think-thanks, with policies mainly designed for and driven by the process of joining the European Union. When universities do get involved, it is mainly because of projects and programmes funded by international development partners.

You have successfully led a team of social science researchers that has worked for 12 months for Serbia to join the European Social Survey? Why is this significant?

The European Social Survey is conducted under the auspices of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium. Methodologically and theoretically, it is the best international comparative and longitudinal social surveys run within the European Union.  For Serbia to join the countries involved in the ESS is significant for three main reasons:

  • Serbia can now bring the methodological rigour and expertise of the ESS into the Serbian research community and contribute to strengthen research and analytical capabilities
  • It will help Serbian researchers to gain a higher profile within the international research community and strengthen the participation of Serbian academic research organisations (rather than simply individual researchers) in international networks. This in turn can inform and influence European policies as well as national policies
  • The access to cross-country comparable datasets and analysis will strengthen Serbian government capability to design and enact public policies required by the process of EU accession.

What do you think were the key factors that helped to bring Serbia into the ESS and for you and your team to succeed?

The Serbian research community has tried for the last 15 years to bring Serbia into the ESS without succeeding. The political interest was simply not there. There main factors that in my opinion explain why we succeeded this time are:

  • The convening and facilitation role of the Performing and Responsive Social Sciences project (PERFORM) has been very important. The project provided the necessary financial support to support the process and, importantly, has taken the role of a broker between the research community and government stakeholders
  • The commitment and enthusiasm by the team of researchers driving the initiative which included young and mid-career researchers, which shows to me that the future is bright for social science research in Serbia
  • The involvement of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development (URL). The ministry recognized the importance of joining the ESS and provided the political buy-in and financial resources that were needed to succeed.

Now that we are part of the ESS, we have an opportunity to generate good quality and longitudinal social development data. Up until now social changes were not tracked systematically over time. This means that on many social issues and problems we cannot say where we stand compared to other European countries. The ESS will give us, for the first time, a chance to generating such data and contribute to designing, costing, implementing and monitoring more evidence-informed policy measures to address social problems the country faces. It is a big step forward for Serbia.

 

Thank you Professor Dragan Stanojević.

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