From policy engagement to research uptake:
Lessons for and from developing country researchers

Better utilization of evidence in policy and practice can help save lives, reduce poverty and improve development performance. While all countries face the challenge of promoting greater use of scientific evidence, the obstables are significantly greater in developing countries - where social and political environments are more difficult, capacity is much more limited and resources are scarcer.

This challenge inspired the theme of the international Policy Forum held during the 2016 PEP Annual Conference in Manila, Philippines on June 8, 2016.

Making development research count

While donors spend more than a billion dollars annually on development-related research, there is increasing acknowledgement that, for research to have any policy impact, it must be conceived, implemented and disseminated in close consultation with policymakers and other key stakeholders.

However, in developing countries, where policy processes are anything but straightforward, local researchers who wish to engage with these processes generally face  a complex enterprise, involving many different actors and interests.

In line with its mission, PEP is dedicated to encouraging, advising and supporting its grantees in engaging relevant policy actors and stakeholders in their home countries.

In 2016, PEP organized an international dialogue to allow various parties (academic, policy, donors, practitioners) to share their views regarding the challenges of research uptake in developing countries, so as to draw lessons that would help inform PEP's support in this area. What are the best conditions and practices to implement? What kinds of challenges and obstacles may be encountered? How can they be overcome in order to maximize the impact of research on policy?

The event brought together around 80 participants from 25 different countries across six continents. The main objective of this event was to produce, collectively, a set of specific recommendations to improve research uptake in policy making. The outcomes are summarized below, and in a short video (above).

Keynote address
How does research influence policy?

Chair of the PEP Board of Directors, Dr. Mustapha K. Nabli (see right-side photo) provided the keynote address. An international consultant and researcher, Dr. Nabli is also the Director of the North Africa Bureau of Economic Studies. His professional background brings together research and high-level policy making with roles including Professor of Economics, Minister of Economic Development of Tunisia, Minister of Planning and Regional Development of Tunisia, Senior Adviser to the World Bank Chief Economist, and Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia. Dr. Nabli shared his insights and advice on what researchers should do to maximize the likelihood of research uptake.

While designing research projects researchers should…

  • Avoid research driven by methods and technical capabilities
  • Be forward thinking in choice of policy/research issue
  • Ask clear policy questions
  • Build on existing evidence around the issue to fill knowledge gaps
  • Put policy recommendations at the heart of the research

When communicating research findings researchers should…

  • Provide clear and contextualized policy messages, but not “oversell” their findings
  • Include concrete recommendations on how to implement the changes suggested
  • Remember that public and policy audiences are not interested in methods and techniques, but rather in issues and solutions
  • Understand who are the relevant policy actors and adapt the message and arguments to their perspective

For more information and explanation, download the full account of Dr. Nabli's recommendations (PDF).

You may also LISTEN to the full keynote speech (see audio file below) and/or download the slide presentation (PDF).


Policy Forum

The discussion portion of the Policy Forum began with a panel of seven researchers, policymakers and advisors from Asia, Africa and Latin America sharing their personal views and experiences of the research-policy nexus, and providing examples of successful collaborations.

This discussion was moderated by John Young, Head of the Research and Policy in Development Programme at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), whose work focuses on the research-policy interface, including the development of world-leading programs to help maximize the impact of research on policy and practice.

Following the panel discussion, Mr. Young invited the room to gather in small (table) focus groups, to debate and agree upon an answer for each of a series of questions, and then share their answers with the audience.

Below are summarized the key lessons and conclusions drawn from the Policy Forum's discussions.

What can researchers do to maximize the use of research?

  • Communicate better
  • Create stronger ties with policymakers
  • Ensure that your “product” is relevant and high quality

What can research funders, like PEP, do to maximize the research uptake?

  • Help bring together researchers and decision makers 
  • Provide support and expertise for research communication activities
  • Help each side (research and policy) appreciate the other’s work

Arjan de Haan, Program Leader of Employment and Growth at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) explained that donor organizations are looking for researchers to take the lead in convincing donors and practitioners that the proposed research is useful and worthwhile, creating links and dialogues with policy actors, and for presenting evidence of impact.

Finally, John Young shared his own conclusions from the day's discussions:

The take away from today is that we need to tell a compelling story. It has to be clear that research can have tangible benefits on people’s lives as well as on policies. We need to generate compelling evidence of the value of investing in knowledge activities. And we must continue to change attitudes to how research is assessed – scientific quality is not enough, we also need to look at its (policy) impact

For more detail regarding the recommendations above, download the full account of the Policy Forum conclusions and recommendations (PDF).


Photos (top to bottom):

  1. Mustapha K. Nabli giving the keynote address.
  2. Policy Forum panel; academics and policy actors from around the world shared their views and experience of the policy-research nexus, facilitated by John Young (ODI).
  3. The audience was invited to gather in small (table) focus groups, to debate and agree upon an answer for each of a series of questions.
  4. Arjan de Haan (IDRC) explains the "donors' perspective".

Photo credit: Manuel Paradis

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