Bridging the Gap between Research and Policymakers in India

3 - 4 February 2004
Seminar and workshop
Description

Better utilization of research and evidence in development policy and practice can help save lives, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life. Ignoring research can sometimes have near disastrous impacts on the livelihoods of poor people. The key issues are: how can policy-makers best use research and move towards evidence-based policy-making; how can researcher’s best use their findings in order to influence policy; and how can the interaction between researchers and policy-makers be improved?

The aims of the seminar were to:

  • Share experiences about research-policy processes in India
  • Learn about the Context: Evidence: Links Framework for analysing research-policy processes
  • Discuss approaches on how to strengthen research-policy links in India
  • Learn about further sources of information

In addition, a further workshop will provide an opportunity for researchers, policy makers and practitioners involved in theFRP R8171project on Low-flows and Livelihoods Project on water policy in India to consider how to improve the policy impact of the project.

The aims of the workshop were for participants to:

  • Share experiences about research-policy processes in the water and forest sector in India.
  • Apply the Context: Evidence: Links Framework to this sector and the specific context of the FRP R8171 project.
  • Learn about tools and approaches which have been used in similar environments.
  • Develop a strategy to improve the policy impact of the project.

Delhi, India

Introduction
Professor Ashvin Gosain opened the seminar and workshop on behalf of the DFID funded Low-flows and Livelihoods Project (R8171) and the Civil Engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. He welcomed the participants which included project staff, policy makers and practitioners working in the water sector in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. He described the aims of the project - to develop, test and promote an integrated framework to improve water, watershed and forestry policies and practice in India, which could dramatically improve water conservation and availability. To do this the project must challenge existing policies, many of which are based on narratives with no science base, including the strong belief that planting trees protects water resources, and it must overcome political considerations and vested interests which discourage evidence-based solutions.

John Young outlined the aims of the seminar and workshop: to share experiences about research-policy processes in the water and forest sector in India; to learn about and apply ODI's Context: Evidence: and Links Framework to the specific context of the FRP R8171 project; and to help project stakeholders to develop a strategy to improve the policy impact of the project.

The analytical framework
Julius Court introduced the ODI framework which 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).

Key factors in the water sector in India
He asked the seminar participants to identify the key factors influencing the adoption of research-based evidence in the water sector in India. Many factors were discussed including:

  • The size, history and complexity of policy processes in India, and tensions between the centre and state.
  • The complexity of the water sector, the number of ministries involved and poor coordination.
  • The existence of formal policies at national level, but limited capacity to interpret them within local contexts, balance conflicting demands and implement appropriate programmes at state level.
  • The emergence of powerful civil society organisations, especially in the environmental arena.
  • The lack of policy-relevant evidence, and poor dissemination of what exists to policy makers and practitioners.
  • The fact that policy makers are more convinced by practical evidence rather than research-based evidence, and the difficulty of engaging them in demonstration projects.
  • The complex web of networks especially in the NGO sector, but often with little specialist expertise.
  • Poor coordination within and between donor-funded projects, which tend to focus on individual projects rather than the bigger picture. Though specific donors (eg DFID in MP) can help promote better policies.

A practical framework
John Young used examples from Kenya and Indonesia to show how researchers can use the framework to develop a better understanding of the context, and to decide how to frame and communicate the results of their research to policy makers, to maximise the chance of policy impact. He explained that this requires a wide range of skills, far beyond those necessary for research, including story telling, networking, programming (engineering) and politics (fixing). The results of participants' policy entrepreneur questionnaires indicated a slight preference for networking and programming. The project may need help to develop convincing narratives (story telling) and to navigate the "politics" (fixing) to maximise impact.

FRP R8171 Policy Objectives
Jaime Amezaga described how the Low-flows and Livelihoods Project is one of three projects coordinated by the Centre for Land Use and Water Resources Research, under the DFID Forestry Research Programme FLOWS cluster, aiming to develop improved forest and water policies. He outlined his own policy objectives and a general strategy for policy action for the FRP R8171 project (which he and Ashvin had developed at a recent FRP training course in the UK) which stimulated much discussion. Participants finally agreed to 5 key objectives which if achieved will maximize the project's policy impact:

  1. Testing and proving the integrated framework in the pilot areas.
  2. Developing and testing mechanisms for improved inter-departmental coordination and cooperation within the pilot project areas
  3. Ensuring there is local commitment to continue the approach within the pilot areas after the end of the project.
  4. Engaging with policy makers and practitioners to foster champions at State and National level who will continue to promote the approach after the end of the project.
  5. A thorough analysis of the political context and clear practical recommendations about what needs to change for the approach to be replicated more widely.

Obstacles and opportunities
Participants then worked in groups to identify and prioritise specific obstacles they would have to overcome, and opportunities they could seize to promote these policy objectives in the pilot project states and at national level. These are described in detail in the full report.

Tools of the trade
Julius Court presented a range of tools that researchers can use to study the political context and develop and communicate convincing evidence. These are described in the full report.

Towards a strategy
After this, the participants divided into groups again to identify specific actions to be taken to address the highest priority "obstacles" and "opportunities", the tools they might use and the support that they would require. While a different approach is needed in each project location (see the main report for more details), all of the groups recognized the need to invest more time and energy in:

  • Getting to know the key policy stakeholders, and determining how best to convince them;
  • Capitalising on political opportunities (the new government and the DFID project in MP, working with environmental campaigners in HP);
  • Making the most of the demonstration projects (especially in HP);
  • Influencing other programmes (NSDI, NRDMS etc);
  • Workshops, seminars and meetings with key stakeholders;
  • Generating appropriate communication materials.

A commitment to support
At the end of the day Professor Ashvin Gosain and Jaime Amezaga thanked everyone for their hard work, and welcomed the new emphasis on communication and policy-orientated activities. Dr Nisha Mendiratta from the NRDMS (Department of Science and Technology) offered her help. It seems the workshop itself had helped to identify a new policy champion!