By Emily Hayter
How can researchers be supported in communicating their research and in supporting policymakers to use research and evidence? Are there particular issues for researchers in the global south?
The three lessons presented here are based on the experience of INASP (International Network for Advancing Science and Policy), an international development organisation which has been working with a global network of partners in Africa, Latin America and Asia for nearly 30 years.
1. Policy engagement needs to build mutual understanding between researchers and policymakers as actors in a system (the ‘how’)
The research/policy space is not quite the chasm it is often presented as, needing a ‘bridge’ to cross between two distinct groups. It is actually more of an interface, with lots of nuances and grey areas, and a wide range of brokering organisations. This is why we generally prefer to use the term ‘policy engagement’ (rather than the many other terms such as research uptake or policy influence), because it emphasises a two-way dialogue and collaboration.
Although the communication of research findings is a critical part of policy engagement, it is only one part of a wider process. And this wider process can often be an ongoing, messy, iterative, collaborative process that researchers need to consider at the beginning of a research project.
For effective policy engagement and collaboration between researchers and policymakers, we have learned it is important for them to be able to put themselves in each others’ shoes.
2. Strengthening productive collaboration (‘the what’)
Dialogue is a critical element of policy engagement, but policy engagement can and should go beyond this to co-create practical solutions— whether by teaming up to strengthen the evidence base of a climate change policy or collaboratively developing a national research agenda.
The most exciting opportunities are those which are founded on co-creation and which push the boundaries of both research and policy making.
We see policy engagement as part of a transdisciplinary research approach, fostering connections across academic disciplines and including the active participation of a wide range of stakeholders.
3. The research/policy interface is not a power-neutral space (the ‘who’)
It is important to ask who is left out of the research/policy interface and why. For example, our organisation INASP had, for a long time, focused on inequities between North and South, but in recent years we have been focusing more on inequities within and between Southern research systems.
We are still learning about these inequities but are aware of particular challenges experienced by specific groups such as women researchers, early-career researchers, and those who are based in ‘non apex’ institutions, ie., those who are based outside capital cities and who are not seen as the preferred people to fund or provide with access to networks of influence.
We think digital technologies can play a particular role in helping researchers acquire the skills to engage better with those in policy and practice. By using digital technologies organisations such as ours can increase the reach of our work and support learning at greater scale. And digital technologies can also create new opportunities for peers to learn and collaborate across institutions and across countries, as well as to ensure that equity and inclusion continue to be central and to ensure new voices and ideas are brought to bear.
What has your experience been in supporting policy engagement by researchers? Do our lessons resonate? Do you have others to share? Do you have insights about overcoming inequities in policy engagement by researchers, especially in the Global South?
This blog post has been adapted from Hayter, E. and Nobes, A. (2021). Three things we have learned about policy engagement. International Network for Advancing Science and Policy (INASP). (Online): https://blog.inasp.info/three-things-we-have-learned-about-policy-engagement/. This also provides links to more of INASP’s work.
Biography: Emily Hayter is an INASP (International Network for Advancing Science and Policy) Associate and has more than 12 years’ experience in programme design and management, as well as capacity development/adult learning and research.