The art of APO: Making policy and research discoverable

APO’s recent donation campaign asked you to imagine a world without APO. Would it really be that bad? Wouldn’t everyone just use Google? Director Brigid van Wanrooy reflects on what she has learnt about the important contribution of information management and asks you to consider whether APO really is replaceable.

Your trusty ‘go-to’

Where do you get information and research to do your work? 

Whether you unabashedly admit it or you sheepishly reveal it over time — there is one common answer: Google. And you could be using a different search engine, but Google has become so synonymous with searching the internet it has become a verb in its own right. 

What makes me so sure? It’s a question I ask anytime I’m in front of a group of policymakers. 

Results from 55 public servants who were asked, where do you get your evidence from? 

So why do you need APO when you’ve got Google, right? 

The art of information management

Back in 2019 when I was given the role of Director of APO, I was ecstatic. My whole career I have been obsessed with how research can be used more — as well as more effectively and efficiently — in policy and decision-making and APO has a really important role in making that information accessible. However, I was a little bemused by the fact that I would be leading a team of information managers — not researchers or policymakers. 

You see, APO’s role is not to create new research to inform policy but rather to catalogue and curate it so it’s readily accessible by those who need it. Producing research or policy is one thing. Making it discoverable and usable is another vital aspect. The APO team creates metadata for a report, policy document, video, podcast, whatever it may be and this is made available on the internet — in the form of metatags — for almost anyone to harvest and use. And yes ‘anyone’ includes Google!

In fact, in the last six months 48 per cent of our users came from Google and another 17 per cent came from Google Scholar. 

If a research institute or government department isn’t adding metatags on their documents published on the internet, then they won’t appear in search results. So not only does APO make policy research available all in one place, we also make it discoverable in many other places, including Google. 

Discoverable research is useful research

It might be kind of obvious why it’s important to make policy and research discoverable. But there’s no harm in emphasising this key point. By making policy and research widely discoverable we are maximising the value of the research. Discovery increases the chances of use, and use increases its value. Most importantly, it reduces duplication of research and ideas, and reinventing the wheel — which occurs in both research and government. In a world (and country) where investment in academic research is declining it’s imperative that we make the most of what is already available. 

Is APO a Google alternative? 

Google is great for finding a huge amount of content but that’s not necessarily what you need to write or research good policy. APO is going to give you the optimum search results based on what is in the repository, not based on algorithms on what we think you want to see. 

And if you think the repository is missing key documents you can add them to APO. This is easy to do: login to APO, go to Add a resource, upload the document or paste the link and add some basic information like title and authors (as much or as little as you want). Our Editors will then moderate the resource and add some more metadata and make it available on APO — and thereby on any other search engine you use.