EPoD Directors Discuss Policy Research with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman


EPoD Directors Discuss Policy Research with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

On March 24, 2018, the faculty directors of Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard Kennedy School met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to highlight EPoD's ongoing policy research collaborations with Saudi ministries. The Saturday evening event, which included several Harvard faculty and was hosted by Harvard Provost Alan Garber, was one stop on the Crown Prince’s multi-week US tour to forge economic and research partnerships in the United States.

The Crown Prince, who serves as Saudi Arabia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, announced “Vision 2030” in April 2016, a plan to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify the economy, and develop key public service sectors like education. EpoD’s work complements many of these initiatives.

At the event held at the Harvard Faculty Club, Professors Rema Hanna, Asim I. Khwaja, and Rohini Pande drew out highlights from EPoD’s in-depth, multi-year policy research engagements in Saudi Arabia. EPoD co-director Khwaja described the meeting: “We had the opportunity of sharing with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his delegation details from our existing work with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development as well a new collaboration with the Ministry of Education. The Crown Prince was supportive of the work and excited about how our engagement could help Saudi Arabia better achieve key outcomes envisioned in Vision 2030 and positively impact the lives of Saudi citizens.”

Since 2013, EPoD has been collaborating with the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), drawing together multiple international and Saudi universities with local policymakers to produce original research on the current constraints in the areas of employment and job creation in the Kingdom. The ultimate objective is to design and test policy solutions for the Saudi Ministry of Labor & Social Development (MLSD) to optimize labor market policy and draw in underemployed groups such as women and youth. EPoD plans to announce shortly the next round of funding opportunities for policy research projects on labor market and social development reforms.

Given the recent reforms in Saudi Arabia, Rema Hanna highlighted ongoing research projects that focus on female access to the labor market. These include a study by Leonardo Bursztyn and Alessandra L. González of the University of Chicago and David Yanagizawa-Drott of the University of Zurich, which tests whether correcting misperceptions about social norms can have real economic impact by increasing women’s labor force participation. Hanna also presented on the Harvard-led collaboration with the country’s unemployment insurance platform, Hafiz, which examines the effect of providing information regarding growth trends in female employment on job search efforts.

The EPoD team also shared about the progress of a more recently launched collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Education (MoE). From March 5–9, EPoD held a workshop for Saudi policymakers and education practitioners at Harvard Kennedy School on using evidence for policy reforms. The week-long event culminated with a symposium with leading education researchers from Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago and other leading U.S. universities on March 9, marking a key milestone in the first phase of the EPoD-MoE engagement.

When asked about EPoD’s reflections on conducting research in the Saudi context, Rohini Pande pointed to the abundance and quality of data in Saudi Arabia, which makes rigorous quantitative research possible. She pointed out that data are an invaluable resource that will be able to provide many insights for Saudi labor and education policy if policymakers and researchers are able to work together to draw out lessons from the data. On this point, Mark Elliott, Vice Provost for International Affairs, highlighted an increasingly repeated reflection: “Data will be the oil of the 21st century.”

A topic of interest in the discussion was how to build government-wide capacity in evidence-based leadership and decision-making. This is an area of focus for EPoD, which has developed a range of programs designed to build individual skills and organizational systems for using evidence, including a training program for senior executives on how to lead 21st century learning organizations, Innovative Leadership in the Age of Data.

When asked about relevant country examples and best practices to learn from, EPoD’s Faculty Directors underscored the need for original research conducted directly in Saudi Arabia in order to have a clear understanding of how policies can be best designed and tailored to the local context to achieve economic and social transformation. The Crown Prince concluded the meeting by emphasizing that knowledge generated at institutions like Harvard is only useful when applied and welcomed researchers to collaborate with policymakers in this regard. The EPoD team aims to build on the existing base of work to continue to generate useful and relevant knowledge for improved policy outcomes in Saudi Arabia and beyond.