By Emily Hayter and Verity Warne
How can researchers and policy makers work together to foster more systematic uptake of research in policy making?
In a series of workshops at the European Commission Joint Research Centre’s Evidence and Policy Summer School on migration and demography, participants identified some of the most critical stages where scientists and policymakers interact: problem definition, research process, and communication of results. We then built up a bank of practical ideas and suggestions for each stage. Although the focus of the workshops was on migration and demography, our suggestions have broader relevance.
Problem definition and research questions
We often hear talk about the need to co-define research questions. But what should this look like in practice, exactly?
- Define through joint scoping – ideally via a face-to-face workshop to create joint ownership (2-4 hours could be sufficient). This helps to define clear needs (“what evidence do policymakers need that is not currently available?”) and makes sure that both policymakers and researchers are asking the right questions.
- Include multiple different types of stakeholders at the outset and actively seek different perspectives. In addition to policymakers, non-government and civil society organizations should be involved in refining research questions.
- Reflect honestly about your own motivations for engaging. For example, a key question for researchers is: “Are you getting in touch to give advice or to raise funds?”
- For researchers who are aiming to influence policy, remember to keep practical considerations in mind from the outset: “what policy challenge are you seeking to address?” and “What kind of budget is available to address these issues?”
During the research process, it is important to keep policymakers engaged because “good research takes time”, and because not all research will support the “preconceived policy line”. Key ways to make this happen include:
- Continue the conversation. Regular exchanges between policymakers and researchers during the research process are important. Researchers are advised to communicate and work openly during the process and be transparent about uncertainties.
- Researchers can give policymakers opportunities to feed in to key research tools, for instance questionnaires.
- There can be value in researchers creating models and simulations – developing short-, medium- and long-term projections for results.
- For policymakers, being proactive and asking about the progress of the research is a constructive way to drive engagement.
Communication and engagement
It is important to clearly communicate research results to policy audiences, as well as to the general public, to drive evidence-informed public debates and ensure both the issues, and the basis of policy decisions, are understood.
Communicate evidence in an accessible and practical way to highlight what is already known (rather than what further research is required). Results have to be short and practical, but don’t give up on communicating limitations. Tips on how to do this effectively are:
- Simplify communication – write for a non-expert audience and minimize use of jargon and technical terms that can be misunderstood.
- Use short direct messages – with daily life examples – do some tests with members of the public to make sure they are working.
- Use infographics and other visual tools.
In order to support evidence-informed public debates:
- Increase communication with the general public in order to encourage open, public debate with relevant stakeholders.
- Make policy proposals (and related data) understandable to the general public by using visualizations, and scenario-telling.
When working with and using the media:
- It is helpful if the researchers and the policymakers present the research to the media together.
- Help the media to understand the research for example by organizing training workshops with media representation so that they can better understand terminology, data and methodological issues.
Encourage best practice: policymakers could do more to promote and celebrate the work of researchers that support policy making.
What has your experience been? Do you have other practical tips to share? Do you disagree with any of those presented here?
This blog post is a modified version of “Migration policy for sustainable development: tips on evidence use”, by Emily Hayter, published on the INASP blog on October 1, 2018. (Online): http://blog.inasp.info/migration-policy-sustainable-development-european-neighbourhood-tips-evidence-researchers-policymakers/
Biography: Emily Hayter is a Senior Programme Specialist at INASP focusing on enhancing the use of evidence in policy making. She has ten years’ experience working in international development in Africa, including in Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.