The Right Tools for the Job: Why Different Policy Problems Require Different Types of Knowledge

Abstract: There is often a mismatch between the questions that scholars ask and the information that policymakers need. Drawing an analogy to medicine, I show that policymaking exists on a spectrum from aggregate to personalized problem solving. Practitioners engage in aggregate policymaking when they apply a single policy or treatment to numerous actors (e.g. improving educational outcomes in developing countries); they practice personalized policymaking when policy can be tailored to each actor (e.g. preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation). Personalized and aggregate policymaking employ different problem-solving processes and thus require different kinds of information. Policy-relevant scholarship is tailored to the type of problem policymakers face.