Knowing your audience

Brevity – the soul of communication?

By 3 April 2009

One of the key challenges that all researchers face is how to get policymakers to take note of their findings. No two policymakers are quite the same, and the demand for evidence and the capacity of policymakers to use that evidence will vary widely from country to country. Policymakers’ own experience and expertise will strongly influence what kind of information they want to see and how they will use it, and they will be receiving information from many different sources too. All that, combined with the specific needs and constraints of the particular ministry and government at that point in time, will determine whether or not research results are taken up or not.

SciDev.net and the RAPID team at ODI have been looking at the research communication environment in both North and South, and the various players, including researchers themselves, development practioners and policymakers. They conducted a survey to find out just how developing country policymakers access and use information, what types of communication ‘product’ they find most useful, and what can be done to facilitate the communication process between researchers and policymakers.

Policy briefs were identified as a key tool for addressing this gap, with 79% of respondents from both developed and developing countries ranking policy briefs as valuable communications tools (along with opinion articles written by experts, news items and discussion for a). More in-depth interviews with sub-national developing country policymakers confirmed that they not only read policy briefs, but often actively seek them out to inform their decision-making processes.

In ‘Policy Briefs as a Communication Tool for Development Research’ Nicola Jones and Cora Walsh outline the findings of their research. They describe the key ingredients for an effective policy brief, and guide readers to think about how they can translate their material in a way that makes it more likely to be taken up.

The policy brief is by now means the end of the road though. As the authors note, ‘Even with a well-crafted policy brief in hand, the research communication process has not ended but is only beginning’.

 



Have you struggled to produce good policy briefs and have lessons to share?
Do you have guidelines for your research team on producing policy briefs that you would be willing to share?
How have you used your project’s policy briefs in effective – and perhaps unexpected – ways?
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Kimberly Clarke

Kimberly has a strong international background in writing and editing, and in evaluation and tracking the impact of communication. She has worked with many international organizations, development agencies and media including the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), UK Department For International Development (DFID), Practical Action, IPS, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Institute of Development Studies (IDS), International Forum for Rural Transport and Development (IFRTD), Plan International, UNDP, FAO, TVE and OnePlanet Pictures.