Bridging research and policy workshop

16 - 17 July 2001
Public event
The ‘Bridging Research and Policy’ workshop held at Radcliffe House, University of Warwick on the 16th and 17th July 2001 was attended by twenty-eight people. The participants were a mix of people from academia, independent research institutes or think tanks, private consulting firms, international organisations, government departments, politics, and donor organisations. The attached participant biographies provide more detail of institutional representation.

As was noted during the workshop, there was greater representation from the research or supply side of the research-policy nexus. Unfortunately, a number of individuals who might be classed as decision-makers (Inge Kaul of UNDP; Shankar Acharya, until recently Finance Minister of India; Pang Eng Fong, Singaporean High Commissioner) withdrew from the workshop at such a late date that it was not feasible to find replacements. In general, however, it is difficult to attract busy politicians and bureaucrats to such events.

Much depends on how ‘policy-maker’ is defined. If it is accepted that a policy-maker is someone involved in making decisions about the allocation and management of public resources, then a number of policy-makers were present at the workshop. They included: Laila Gad from the Social Development Fund in Egypt, Ali Belhaj, member of the parliament of Morocco; Sarah Boulton and Weyinmi Omamuli, both of the UK Department for International Development; Lyn Squire of the World Bank; and Dag Ehrenpreis from the OECD.

University of Warwick, Radcliffe House

Day 1. Monday 16th July

The first day was taken up primarily with presentations. The first session presented the background paper that had been distributed in advance of the workshop. This was designed to frame discussion about some of the problems encountered both in conceptualising how the research-policy nexus might be improved, and in the practical problems faced by researchers and policy makers.

The following sessions focused in more detail on specific issues. Session 2 addressed the perspective of policy-makers and research consumers. Specifically, Laila Gad outlined the problems encountered by an Egyptian agency in its utilisation of research, Ali Belhaj spoke of his knowledge of how research facilitated energy sector reform in Morocco whilst Hugo Fernandes discussed research use and non-use in the PRSP process of Bolivia.

Session 3 focused on researchers’ views on the policy uses of research. Desmond McNeill spoke about his current research project CANDID – the Creation, Adoption, Negation and Distortion of Ideas in Development – whilst Diery Seck discussed the outcomes of his research program and recent book on economic research in Africa. The final session of Day 1 considered issues relating to dissemination and communication. Vikas Nath provided insight into electronic forms information dissemination, Jim Ryan recounted the work of the International Food Policy Research Institute in taking research to policy makers, whilst Ivan Krastev outlined how the ‘think tank’, as an organisational tool, was a mechanism for research communication.

Day 2. Tuesday 17th July

Session 1 of Day 2 began with an open forum discussion of the intended outcomes of the workshop. Five different areas of interest were identified, all of which could be important aspects of any practical work programme aiming to bridge research and development. All five areas might be somehow combined in the proposed project, which was termed a ‘bridging programme’. The five areas were developing country case studies, conceptual frameworks, networks, resource centres, and support/training for both researchers and policy-makers. It was decided that in the second session of Day 2 that the bridging programme would be developed in greater detail. Ideally, a coherent programme would result that could be presented for feedback and input from donors, policy-makers, NGOs and other researchers (or indeed any potential participants or key interests that could be identified) at some future point.

The workshop was then divided into four sub-groups, each of which dealt with the first area, case-studies, and one of the four other areas. The sub-groups were given two hours for discussion and were oriented towards generating a clear proposal or set of proposals for a bridging programme. Each group developed a series of ideas, proposals or structures that were then presented to and discussed as a whole group in the following hour-long session.

Work Programme proposals.

A number of suggestions on the content of the work programme came forward from the workshop participants. There was general agreement that a major component of the work programme would be the development of case studies of the policy-research nexus. Some of these are itemised below

Implementation phases were suggested:

  1. Aim: reconstructing the decision-making process through case-studies to better understand how and when policy research can make a difference to policy making and meet the needs of decision-makers.
  2. Empirical review (to match the background paper) and a preliminary proposal. This review could also assist in the selection of case-studies for detailed study by generally surveying multiple cases and establishing those meeting the criteria (below)
  3. Developing a network of organisations across countries and sectors with an organisational ‘hub’. A possible name would be: RAP Net (ie. research and policy network)
  4. Identifying resource people – with expertise in both/either the sector or the policy-making process
  5. Engage in country research. The method could be interviews of both participants and observers of policy cases. This phase might be limited to (for example) 4 countries; 6 sectors.
  6. Outcomes – including reflecting on the case studies to further develop the conceptual framework in relation to bridging research and development. Practical implications for research and policy-maker training and for important resources that should be widely available or incentive structures that might be encouraged (below)
  7. Procedural time-table: Initial meeting establishing parameters of the programme and common questions; first research phase; mid-project meeting; second research phase; final meeting to synthesis results of case-studies

Criteria for Case-studies:

  1. Policy issue of cross-country relevance and scope for comparison
  2. Existing knowledge available within both the workshop research-group and more generally
  3. Cross-sector relevance
  4. Local dimension
  5. Feasibility of policy-maker input
  6. Fairly recent policy episode reflecting evidence of change/reform
  7. Specificity of topic
  8. Case studies of policy change that reflect research into policy successes; some studies of policy research failures

A further set of suggestions emerged concerning a resource-centre: www-based; act as focal point for networks; publicise and co-ordinate program; would include (new generation) training material; case studies; key documents.

Another set of proposals arose in relation to capacity building. That is, capacity building for policy makers in terms of their institutional capacity to identify and absorb sources of policy research such as might occur with policy analysis units attached to the executive, parliamentary research service, etc. In addition, there is further scope for capacity building of researchers in developing their communication skills not only with policy makers but also the media and community organisations. This would require a survey of existing training capacity and programmes. A common view was that research institutes and training programmes should be encouraged to interact and engage in a more systematic policy dialogue with the users or consumers of research. Work on the case-study phase of the programme may require the training of researchers, as well as producing findings that will have impact on future training programs.

Final sessions – discussion and closure.

The elements of the project identified by the work-groups were seen as compatible, as the bridging programme was to be conceived of as a ‘learning network’, which included policy-makers, donors, researchers, NGOs etc as well as representatives from these groups in developing countries. The learning network would include training and resource capacity building, but would constantly reflect back on these aspects of the broader project in the light of new information and experience. These would be gathered through the co-ordinated research programme of the learning network, which remained oriented towards bridging research and development and understanding the links between these in developing countries.

It was agreed that in moving forward with the bridging programme it is important to avoid it being researcher-led or -oriented. Ensuring policy-maker involvement at all phases may be difficult but is necessary. It was agreed that someone would be needed to prepare a document or proposal in the post-workshop period, with maximum input and consultation from the widest variety of sources, particularly policy-makers, donors, and researchers/policy-makers in developing countries. Building the proposal would require some interim funding. Keeping particular case-studies and specific project aims relatively open was important in the proposal phase so as to maximise the sense of ownership of these groups. It was agreed that the programme needed an institutional home, and the GDNet was, with some reservations, generally agreed upon as an appropriate home with the proviso that GDN was a researcher-led body by nature, and careful measures would need to be taken to avoid this affecting the programme.

Next steps

The next steps are to craft a substantive work programme to present to donor groups. This needs to be done prior to the next annual conference of the Global Development Network in December 2001 where around 20-25 donors will convene. However, it was agreed that this was not the only venue where the work programme could be presented and that donor interest would be solicited elsewhere.

Suggestions to take the lead for drafting the work programme came from Simon Maxwell of the Overseas Development Institute, while Lyn Squire made the offer of some support from a staff member of the GDN Secretariat in Washington D.C.. Meanwhile, Desmond McNeill at the University of Oslo would explore the prospect of some support in Norway.

In retrospect, insufficient time was allowed for full discussion of leadership and ownership of the work programme. Further feedback from workshop participants is needed in order that work programme is not Northern dominated. In the first instance, this could be facilitated through a systematic email discussion over the next month or so. Nevertheless further consideration needs to be given to ensuring better representation of, and input from, all stakeholders at all stages of this programme, specifically this early stage. This is the route to ensuring the legitimacy of the programme and allowing wider ownership.