Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is the only country in the Western Balkans that did not yet join any of the rounds of the ESS Survey. Unfortunately, it is not so surprising at all, given the institutional set-up of the country and a slow progress in pursuing any reforms and new initiatives. Although the procedure of joining the ESS Round 10 is already initiated with the BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs, and conducting the ESS survey in BiH is considered a must-have, one of the questions that remains to be addresses in the process of promoting the use of the ESS once it is conducted is: Who the ESS is for? Or in other words, do we have a sufficient number of users of the ESS survey data? Any survey, which collects the data not being sufficiently used because there is no demand for the use and no sufficient number of researchers who will be using the data, is not fully justified. Although the benefits of having the ESS data from BIH for comparative research by researchers in the EU is already a sufficient motivation, it is still important to assure the use of these extremely valuable data by local researchers, which should influence policy making processes in BiH.
As in many other areas, BiH is lagging behind even the Western Balkans region with regards to the research capacities and use of research in the decision making. Overall, both the quantity and quality of the social science research outputs in BiH is rather low and lagging behind other countries in the Western Balkans region. According to UNESCO, only 0.3% of GDP is invested in the R&D in BiH and there are 292 researchers per million inhabitants, with social sciences taking a minor role in these figures. Production of research by social science institutions (i.e. university institutes, and a few social-science research centers within the NGO sector) is “rare, periodic and ad-hoc”. Moreover, the GII 2020 ranked BiH as 74th out of 131 countries overall and is on 124th place for the university/industry research collaboration. There is clearly a lot of room for improvements in the area of R&D in BiH.
According to current practice, public policy makers extremely rarely make decisions based on evidence. Almost all demand for empirical research in social sciences is made by international organisations, which pursue their own agenda. On the other hand, national governments are neither demanding nor providing funds for social science research In such circumstances, the funds are often not provide even for regular surveys that should be conducted by national office of statistics. For example, the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) is not conducted in BiH yet, and is being delayed for unknown reasons after the pilot survey was conducted in 2018. An alternative, the Household Budget Survey is being conducted once in four years or less, with the last one completed in 2015. So, the social science research analysing such important issues in BiH such as poverty and inequality have to rely on 2015 data in 2021, and probably even later as it is not yet known when the next rounds of the HBS will be implemented. Moreover, many international surveys weren’t conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among the most important international surveys in social sciences, Bosnia and Herzegovina so far occasionally took part in the European Values Study (EVS), World Values Survey (WVS), as well as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) in 2019. After PISA and TIMMS have shown extremely disappointing results with regards to the education system in BiH, the government decided to discontinue their participation in the survey. Finally, even the Census was completed in 2013, two year after other countries in Europe, and it is already certain that the new Census will not be conducted in 2021 (and probably not even in 2023). With such a lack of available survey data, pursuing the idea of making BiH join the ESS is even more important for the research community in BiH.
It is also important to note that the lack of data for social science research additionally arises from the fact that data preservation and sharing is still under-developed. According to the self-assessment conducted by universities recently, the proportion of researchers sharing data is estimated as low (less than 10%). Data are shared primarily via personal contacts (peers and colleagues) that lack formality and transparency. To obtain data from other researchers is considered “extremely difficult” by the respondent of the self-assessment. Moreover, the incentives and enablers for data sharing within the social sciences research community in Bosnia and Herzegovina are currently non-existent. Indeed, there is no career reward (e.g. influence on career progression, higher success rate in obtaining research funding, better standing within the research community) related to data sharing within the academic community. One of activities which needs to be done in BiH is advocacy and support in designing public policies that will require from researchers to deposit data in data archive for long-term preservation. Bosnia and Herzegovina has only one data archive for social sciences in BiH established so far (more info at dass.credi.ba), which became operational only last year. Still, DASS-BiH already has a full scale of archiving and reuse services, provides consultancy services through its trained staff. Also, it already became a partner of CESSDA-ERIC and is currently in the process of obtaining CoreTrustSeal certification. However, no government support is provided to this data archive, and its sustainability remains under threat.
With such a picture of the environment for social science research in mind, it is very clear that pursuing the idea of conducting the ESS in BiH is extremely important. Such data, easily accessible by researchers, as well as allowing for comparative analysis, are expected to increase research activities in the country. This can also be confirmed by experience of other countries in the region. Still, we should not rely on government support so much, given experience described above. Also, as presented above, we need to be aware that a lot still remains to be done to assure full utilisation of the ESS data, including research capacity building, as well as advocacy campaigns towards policy makers to use evidence for their decision making. One of the promising initiatives in BiH is CREDI’s Evidence2Policy Hub, named InQuire, which is conducting a semester-long research capacity building program and is connecting researchers with policy makers and funding institutions (more details at www.inquire.ba).