What are the principles of policy relevant research?

9 August 2016
SERIES Doing policy relevant research

As we stated in the first post of this series, our approach is based on the premise that researchers and research institutions that do good research for policymaking have a set of unique skills that distinguish them from those that do purely academic work. They have specific and deliberate ways of linking with the world of policymaking.

While there are no clear-cut recipes that will work for all those who want to conduct policy relevant research, we have gathered a set of principles identified in the existing literature and through practice, which will help researchers develop both the right mind-set and the practical skills for their work, and create an enabling environment for relevant research to flourish.

Principles for policy relevant research

Here are outlined the seven principles:

  1. Embedded in policy context Instead of focusing on rules and standards for the policy relevant research, we should explore the methodological options available in relation to the context. This means that we are not inclined to think that one particular type of research is better, but what is important is to understand the choices we make given the context where we work in.
  2. Internally and externally validated Relevant research needs to be meaningful within and outside the organisation. Acquiring the perspective of others will strengthen both the research agenda as well as each research projects. This approach will propose different levels of engagement feasible for this validation and that may work depending on the  context and the characteristics of each think tank.
  3. Responds to policy questions and objectivesMany times, it is believed that “research for policy” must be instrumental, that the key is having a slot for “policy recommendations” at the end of the report. But the reality is that policy problems are diverse and the expected contribution of research in each can be different. This approach puts forward a way of looking at policy problems and identifying each think tank´s potential contributions.
  4. Fit for purpose and timely Once think tanks and researchers have identified the type of policy problems they face and the questions their research may answer, then they may start defining the most appropriate methods.
  5. Crafted with an analytical and policy perspective Policy relevant research goes beyond the obvious and beyond a narrative description of the situation.
  6. Open to change and innovation: as it interacts with policy spaces and policymakers – Innovating in research is critical for a think tank to maintain its relevance in the policy process. However, it is important to balance both the capacity to create new things, and to take advantage of the existing capacities of your think tank.
  7. Realistic about institutional capacity and funding opportunities – Finally, but not least important, a relevant research agenda is realistic.

In order to support researchers and research organisations’ efforts in conducting policy relevant research, our series unpacks and distills these principles at two levels: at a strategic, conceptual level, and at a practical and personal level. Carrying out these seven principles is both a personal and institutional commitment.