A workshop for researchers from government research departments, universities or research institutes, think tanks or NGOs, to improve their capacity to analyse the context within which they work, and develop strategies and use some simple approaches and tools to improve the policy impact of their work. The was designed to provide an environment where participants could:
- Share experiences about policy-research processes in the MENA Region;
- Learn about the GDN Bridging Research and Policy Project.
- Learn about the Context: Evidence: Links framework for analysing the context within which they work, and apply it to selected case studies.
- Share experiences about approaches to strengthen research-policy links which work in the MENA Region.
- Learn about other tools and approaches which have been used elsewhere, and about where to access further information and resources.
- Develop a strategy to improve the policy impact of their own work.
After introductions, the first session focused on participants’ own examples of where research has influenced policy and where it has not. This was followed by group work to discuss some of the general issues that affect research-policy linkages in the region. They concluded that:
- different stakeholder groups – researchers, policy makers and NGOs, each have their own cultures, incentives, interests and agendas, and have complex inter-relationships;
- the political context provides major challenges regarding the uptake of research into policy in the MENA region
- policy makers in the region change frequently, are driven by political agendas, rarely recognize the value of research, prefer “foreign” research, are often looking for evidence to support policy decisions they have already made, and often co-opt the best researchers;
- research in the region suffers from variable data quality, inadequate peer review, poor research methodology, (lack of) independence, weak infrastructure and perverse incentives;
- there are severe communication challenges in the region between academic and policy communities and civil society and government etc.
The ODI framework groups the factors affecting research-policy interactions into 4 domains: the external context (donor policies etc), the political context (politics, policy-making institutions and existing narratives etc), the evidence itself (credibility, relevance, and applicability etc), and the links between evidence and policy-making (individuals, intermediaries and networks etc). Building on this, participants identified the key factors relevant for their own work in each domain:
- Political context: In the MENA region policy makers are very conservative, there is little demand for research and little interest in policy research among researchers. Most policy is set by the Head of State, who likes to have academics as Ministers to validate his policy initiatives. When academics become Ministers they tend to lose their independence.
- Evidence: Research could play a larger role. More research is needed into policy implementation. In many countries, Ministries have their own research departments, often staffed by part-time academics, but their advice is often ignored.
- Links: Researchers and policy-makers live in different worlds and use different sorts of language. Policy-makers need simple short stories, researchers like complicated theories. Few researchers make sufficient efforts to communicate the results of their work to policy-makers. The media plays an important role in some countries.
The framework can also help researchers to decide what they need to know, and do, and how to do it to achieve greater impact. They need a wide range of skills - storytelling, networking, planning (engineers) and political skills (fixers). Based on questionnaire results, most of the participants preferred story telling and networking to planning and fixing.
Participants used 3 teaching case studies (on Paravets in Kenya, Rice production in Kerala, and Fiscal policy in Chile) to see how applying the framework could help to promote policy impact. It was interesting how different people thought different issues were important, but all very quickly started to think about the value of multidisciplinary research, how to network, how to analyse the political context, and what strategies were likely to be most successful. A range of other useful tools was also presented.
During the final concluding session participants suggested that some of these tools and approaches would be very helpful in the MENR region and that the ERF should do more on these issues.