Key principles to guide policy influence and research uptake: a synthesis of an interesting discussion

26 September 2011

A few weeks ago, Jeff Knezovich shared a few principles of policy influence and research uptake. In search of stories and examples of influence in policies I’ve re-read this debate and found it, again, very interesting. I think it is worth wrapping up the discussion and giving a few conclusions.

The Principles

The principles: Country driven, Two-way process, Objective led, Embedded in the research process, ‘Being there’, Accessible, Operating in complex environments, Reflective and adaptive, Internal and external. The hotprinciples that made more noise in this discussion were “being there”,” accessibility” and “country driven”.

The being there’ approach divided the waters into a more “technical/on line communications” debate and a more conceptual discussion. The technical group discussed (or better, shared knowledge) on what are the best channels for on-line communications, the difficulties of measuring the new ones – which we have much less control, such as Facebook, Twitter and posts in other sites. Andrew Clappison and Nick Scott exchanged some concerns, difficulties, ideas and pros and cons of some tools such as Hootsuit and Google Analytics. For further discussion Nick suggested to visit the ‘being there’ online communications for On Think Tanks which already has Part I and II and it has been published on ebpdn last week. It covers what ODI’s experiences – both good and bad. It also outlines how Nick has created a dashboard tool for ODI to collect statistics from those multiple sources as a first attempt to try and bring some order to ODI’s statistics and create a space for intelligent analysis of online communications. We will probably keep on learning a lot on this important topic.

The other group had a more “conceptual” discussion since this principle takes another (similar) meaning when we think of off-line communications. Francisco Perez and Enrique Mendizabal both agreed on the importance of talking face to face to those we want to communicate with. This is a huge challenge for ‘international’ initiative. Not just because the audiences / publics are not there with you in your office in London or Washington but because to talk to people face to face in a meaningful way one needs a lot more preparation than we tend to plan for: you cannot just fly in and expect to get anywhere (Enrique). This argument is also linked to the other hot principlesaccessibility and country driven.

No surprise these principles made so much noise. There is a huge concern on how international organisations are approaching these principles and some questions came up on this debate:

Do [IO]  consider that in developing countries the majority of the people live in the village where power, newspaper, internet, television and radio is not fully accessible to majority? The strategy of country driven sounds good but what do you mean by country driven? By the government, NGOs or people from the grassroots level? The words country driven may be a good slogan but in reality is not applicable because some donors, NGOs and government (politicians) have different priorities as well as personal interests which do not put into consideration people’s priorities and best interests.

These questions also brought to the table the complexity of influencing policies. A shared concern by Andrew and Enrique was if whether the work of all of these organisations should be to try to set/inform the agendas ­rather than change this or that policy. Andrew says that perhaps we should be far more frank and realistic about ‘influence’ and focus a lot more on the next rung on the ladder down (i.e. interest groups/civil society and others)???

This is a complex discussion and by no means is going to bring an answer here but the debate itself is enriching and makes us stop for a moment in our busy lives to reflect and think about our job. By exchanging ideas, we try to improve the influence in policies, so thanks to all of you who have participated in this debate. Some conclusion came up to try to improve the utility of these principles:

  • The importance of having a LOCAL communication TEAMS
  • Turn around the initiatives: find out what already exists and get more ‘country driven’ initiatives instead of donor initiatives.
  • Get the different local publics talk to each other so people and communities gets the benefits
  • Use simple tools for complex problems
  • Be flexible and be able to readapt
  • Use more arguments, they are more efficient than the evidence
  • Consider lessons from other countries in relation to the roles played by the media and the private sector in particular
  • Map out the system
  • Consider incorporating a third set of relevant stakeholders
  • And the one I like best: Practice, practice, practice!

Some resources shared during the debate