November 27, 2017


Doing policy relevant research in South Asia

On Think Tanks, CSTEP, Think Tank Initiative – Online
start date: January 29, 2018 end date: April 29, 2018

On Think Tanks, the Center for Study of Science Technology and Policy (CSTEP) and the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) invite mid-to-senior level researchers and think tankers in South Asia to apply for the course: Doing policy relevant research. There are a limited number of spaces in the course. Applications are open for those who wish to improve their skills, knowledge and current practices to lead research agendas and projects that effectively interact with policy-making processes.

This course will be delivered  by On Think Tanks in partnership with CSTEP to South Asian think tanks, between January and April 2018.

If you are are a think tank or a donor and are interested in a similar or a customised course for your organisation or your grantees, please get in touch with us: [email protected]

An innovative way to learn and enhance the design of policy relevant research

Research (and researchers) is at the heart of what think tanks and research centres do. However, how often do you reflect on how research is carried out? What are your assumptions on your strategy to influence policy-making? How do you ensure your research is relevant for decision making? Doing high quality and policy relevant research is at the core of a think tank´s existence- if this fails, so does the think tank.

This course offers an opportunity to reflect and deepen your knowledge on research for policy-making. Think tanks are composed of researchers that have gone through extensive training and, because of this intrinsic capacity, further development of research skills can sometimes be overlooked. Nevertheless, to effectively influence decision-making processes, traditional research skills need to be complemented with new perspectives on policy and influence.

In this course we will explore implications and opportunities to enhance the policy relevance of research in its different stages: identifying strategic policy issues, framing approaches to address them, validating a research agenda and managing research design from a policy perspective.

You will learn how to lead your research work to contribute to a solid internal agenda as well as to a greater influence on policy. You will be prompted to reflect on the personal and institutional assumptions of research and its connections with the policy arena and its players. The course will also focus on maximising your capacity and resources when designing a research agenda, helping you identify policy relevant issues and learning about different practices and tools to enhance your research practice. The course is built on a combination of theoretical modules, examples, webinars and new tools and methodologies, along with practical exercises.


This is an opportunity for participants to achieve higher quality research and policy influence.

By the end of the course, participants will be able to re-think the way they design their research agenda and use the tools and knowledge acquired to help their organisations and teams design and manage policy relevant research.

Specific objectives for participants:

  • Improve their current skills and develop new ones to design and implement policy relevant research agendas.
  • Strengthen the design and implementation of research, so it is embedded
    in the policy context and responds to the needs of the main stakeholders throughout the research-influence cycle.
  • Understand the research design decisions that directly affect its potential for policy impact (including the organisational processes and factors that need to be incorporated on the process).
  • Become more skilled to engage in policy debates, with key stakeholders and emerging priorities.

This course is not:

  • An overview of basic research skills or a course on traditional research
  • A toolkit for research communication.
  • Focused on research quality control mechanisms or on management skills for specific research projects.

To achieve its objectives the course will:

  • Develop new and better skills for participants to design and implement policy relevant research agendas.
  • Reflect and identify how to effectively balance individual and institutional interests throughout the whole research agenda cycle, taking into account organisational opportunities and constraints such as funding, policy context and internal capacity.
  • Strengthen the design and implementation of research so it interacts more
    fruitfully with the policy context and its main stakeholders throughout the whole cycle of production.
  • Have a comprehensive overview on decisions about research that directly
    affect its potential for policy impact, as well as organisational processes and factors that need to be incorporated in the process.
  • Promote horizontal learning by exchanging experiences and practices from policy researchers in developing countries on the design and implementation of research agendas.

Outline of the course

The course will run for 14 weeks. It includes:

  • Six reading modules,
  • Six webinars led by two trainers,
  • A forum for ongoing discussion with trainers and participants, and
  • Reading recommendations
  • Three practical personal tasks (reviewed and commented by the trainers).

The first week will be an introduction to the course and will focus on the introduction of the trainers and participants. It will also be an opportunity for everyone the to become familiarized with the platform and technicalities of the course.

The course is participative. The debates and exchange of experiences among
participants is one of the key features of the course, as well as a vehicle for learning. The debate will be promoted and encouraged by the trainers, but the commitment of participants will enrich the course experience for all.

Each of the six modules addresses a critical aspect of doing policy relevant research (see “content structure” below). Each module lasts 2 weeks and includes a combination of theoretical materials and one 60 minute webinar, which will be the basis for the forum discussion. The facilitators will prompt the forum discussion with questions and comments, but participants are expected to play an active role.

Every two modules participants will work on a personal exercise, which will be reviewed by the trainers. Technical advice is provided by trainers through detailed feedback on completed personal tasks.

The approximate time needed to commit to the course (read the material, comment on the forum, attend webinars and prepare exercises) is between four and five hours a week.

Content structure

Module 1. Setting the scene: the research and policy relationship. This module asks for a reflection on what are the ways in which science interacts with policy. It also explores the potential contributions of researchers and what makes good
research effectively inform policy. It outlines the criteria for a policy relevant research agenda (developed in the next modules).

Module 2. Designing a policy relevant reserach agenda. For a think tank, the first step to inform policy to research is to develop an strategic reearch agenda. To develop this agenda, it has to balance internal and external influences, as well as individual and organisational interests. This module outlines what a good policy relevant research agenda looks like. It then focuses on how to ensure that research is embedded in the policy context.

Module 3. Validation of the research agenda. This module focuses on validating a research agenda to enhance its policy relevance. The process begins with an in-house brainstorming exercise and expands to engage with stakeholders. It also suggests strategies to use stakeholder’s comments to incorporate them into the research agenda.

Module 4. Responding to policy problems. Policy relevant research responds to policy problems. This module presents a mechanism to identify and define these problems. It also presents strategies to analyse influence mechanisms in different contexts to help decide the type of research that would be relevant in each case. It presents a concrete mechanism for choosing research and influence strategies aligned with the policy context, enhancing its potential for impact.

Module 5. Fit for purpose and timeliness of research. Building on module 4, module 5 focuses on using different research methods in coherence with the policy problems you are working on. Each method has strengths and weakness. To maintain policy relevance, you must take into consideration the policy context and choose the one that is fit for purpose.

Module 6. Managing and communicating your reserach agenda. This final module highlights two key aspects of a policy relevant agenda: effective internal management and strong communication strategies. This module is based on the premise that a think tank must also be realistic about its capacities and its funding opportunities to be relevant in the policy scene.

Who can take this course?

The course is open to mid and senior level researchers and managers at think tanks and policy research organisations in South Asia. There is a maximum of three participants per organisation. Preference will be given to mid to senior level researchers with a proven track record and those who are likely to stay with the organisation for the foreseeable future.

For their part, participants will be the ‘change-agents’ at their respective organisations and be the mentors to others within the organisation by training other staff on the skills which they have trained in.

Organisations are expected to provide a letter of support to the participants to this effect.


Participants need a reliable internet connection to participate in the webinars. It is very important for the success, usefulness and dynamics of the course that the participants assume the commitment of making at least a weekly contribution, by participating in the forums, sending materials or sharing interesting information.

Course trainers

The course will be facilitated by the OTT Team.

Andrea Ordóñez. Andrea is a trainer at the OTT School where she has co-developed training strategies for researchers interested in policy relevance. She is Research and Partnerships Coordinator for Southern Voice, a network of think tanks devoted to influencing the Sustainable Development Goals. She has over 10 years of experience carrying out policy relevant research and coordinating national and international research agendas within and across think tanks. She is an economist by training and is interested in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Andrea has developed research projects and policy proposals for the public sector and has carried out institutional and sectoral assessments for international organisations.

Andrea Baertl. Andrea is On Think Tanks Research Officer. She is a social psychologist and has experience in research, research communications, and capacity building for NGOs and think tanks, and corporate social responsibility. She partook in development projects focusing on improving governance in regional governments. She has also worked in a programme seeking to inform Peru 2011´s presidential electoral process by raising the quality of the debate with research and policy analysis. Before joining On Think Tanks, Andrea worked at the ELLA (Evidence and Lessons from Latin America) programme where she focused on ensuring that the research produced by research centres responded to the needs of the target research users (policy makers, communities, media, academics and practitioners), was absorbed by them, and provoked them to action.

To sign up

Get in touch: [email protected]