Bridging Research and Policy

9 October 2003 11:30 - 16:00 GMT+00
Workshop

Speakers:

John Young

Dylan Winder - DFID

Hilary Warburton - ITDG
Saleemul Huq - IIED
Diane Stone - University of Warwick

Description
How can policy-makers best use research, and move towards evidence-based policy-making? How can researchers best use their findings in order to influence policy? How can the interaction between researchers and policy-makers be improved? ODI’s Bridging Research and Policy project has been exploring these questions over the last 18 months. This seminar provided an opportunity to learn more about this project, which included a literature review, the development of a new framework for analyzing and strengthening research-policy links and four in-depth case studies.

The New Framework suggests that research uptake is a function of the interaction of Context: Politics and Institutions; Evidence: Approach and Credibility; and Links between Researchers and Policymakers. The project used the framework to explore four recent policy events:

  • How did Poverty Reduction Strategies emerge from the international discourse about the Common Development Framework, and become the key financial planning instrument for the World Bank, the IMF and most bilateral donor programmes in 1999?
  • The Sphere Project is spearheading the move to strengthen the accountability of humanitarian agencies and to find ways of improving performance in humanitarian response. How did research, and in particular to Joint Rwanda Evaluation contribute to this policy initiative?
  • There has been a quiet revolution in Livestock Services in Northern Kenya over the last decade where veterinary services are now provided illegally by trained livestock keepers rather than veterinary staff. Why has convincing evidence of their effectiveness not lead to policy and legal reform?
  • How did research contribute to the development of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach, its adoption as one of the key principles of the 1997 White Paper and its rapid institutionalisation within DFID over the subsequent few years?

This workshop was held for special advisors on putting research into practice. The presentation outlined RAPID's approach to strengthening policy entrepreneurship in the North and South. This was followed by a discussion by a panel of policy entrepreneurs from policy and research institutions, NGOs and Think Tanks, and then a general discussion amongst all participants. Groups were then formed to develop specific ideas for specific audiences.

  1. The aim of this workshop was to discuss the potential uses of outputs of the RAPID programme for individuals involved in different areas of research and policy making, and consider future directions for RAPID's work.
  2. John Young introduced the speakers and outlined the RAPID programme of work to date:
  • ODI has focused on four main areas; research on bridging research and policy, knowledge management and communication; and increasing awareness of the importance of research;
  • RAPID has completed several projects, including a literature review, the collection of 50 preliminary, and three detailed case studies on bridging research and policy, advisory work on information and communications, a meeting series, and consultation for the Swiss Development Corporation;
  • Several key lessons have emerged; the importance of developing research that is credible, the effectiveness of collaborative action-research, and the importance of timing when considering how to give research maximum impact;
  • Having developed a conceptual framework for bridging research policy, RAPID is currently working on a political context mapping tool, a set of teaching case studies and a number of participatory training workshops and seminars.
Dylan Winder outlined a response to the RAPID programme from a DFID point of view. He suggested that a window of opportunity was opening up within DFID as they moved towards more integrated relationships between researchers and policy-makers. He advised that the best way to sell the RAPID programme to DFID would be to apply these techniques to a set of on-going initiatives in order to demonstrate the potential for increased impact. He indicated that many policy makers will always have difficulty in drawing out the policy applications of very specific research studies to very holistic policy problems. Hilary Warburton of ITDG gave feedback as a representative of the NGO community. Hilary pointed out that the RAPID work does not focus strongly on the perspectives of poor people, and that an understanding of this issue is central to the credibility of her organisation. She suggested that RAPID should address the question of what kind of evidence is credible from the point of view of grass roots organisations. From the perspective of action-research groups and think tanks, Saleemul Huq, of IIED suggested that DFID should bear in mind the work of RAPID when considering how they commission research. He suggested that in-country research partners are often more easily recognised as legitimate, and are therefore in a better position to bridge research and policy. He argued that that there should be more southern voices in research itself. Diane Stone, speaking on behalf of 'pure researchers' and the academic community, suggested that RAPID was better aimed at research managers, rather than researchers. She pointed out that academic reputation of researchers is gauged by research outputs rather than research impact; policy advocacy and dissemination does not count towards a research assessments exercise (RAE). Managers however, may have an interest in using RAPID work to introduce an element of social accountability into their auditing procedures. She argued that RAPID work should be used to address the incentives which underlie academic research culture. Megan Lloyd-Laney then opened up discussion to the floor. A number of issues were raised:
  • We do not need to create a breed of 'super-researchers' who can do all of these tasks; we need to work out a better division of labour within the development sector as a whole;
  • What we really need is not more research, but mindful, reflective observation of our working lives;
  • RAPID needs to focus on the funders of research rather than researchers themselves, so that dissemination can be written into the fabric of research proposals;
  • The divide between researchers and policy makers is not as large as that between local decision makers and the lives of people in poverty.
Breaking into small groups, participants discussed future projects for RAPID. In a quick and dirty wrap-up, five kinds of approach were identified that ODI could take forward:
  • Targeted bespoke training e.g. For librarians, NGOs involved in policy influence;
  • Facilitation of existing networks to strengthen and make better connections, and fill gaps. This would include undertaking advocacy to 'soften up' research funders to be receptive to this approach. It could be done by adding activities and a new focus to another network that is already working on this area, providing training to another network, setting up an e-discussion list for interested people etc;
  • Produce materials e.g. for research managers it could be guidelines for good practice to mainstream in all funded research etc; for researchers it could be more 'how to' influence policy etc;
  • Reanalysis of the case studies/framework e.g. (i) prioritisation of where money could be spent in different scenarios (ii) role of local people (iii) unpack circles to reveal grey personalities especially in the south (iv) unpack policy stages (v) more examples to create different categories (vi) include power into the framework;
  • Further research to test the model in the south; action research to 'operationalise' the framework; integrate space for reflection into research procedures etc.
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