In this experiment, we don’t suppose that any researcher or communications expert would propose to influence policy using a standalone policy brief. But what we have learned is that having an opinion piece from a sector expert in the brief increases the information sharing effect. So, messengers matter. Readers would even share the message with their network without having absorbed or fully comprehended the knowledge on the basis of the title of the policy brief, its subject or the author’s name. This has implications for our assumptions about the roles of ‘trust’ and ‘power’ in knowledge brokering activities.
In a recent blog discussion Enrique Mendizabal was describing a policy brief “as something one leaves behind after a meeting “. It is one important research communications tool, but it does not have influence on its own and as stressed by the head of communications at IDS, James Georgalakis, what may be more important in this case is “the process that allows individuals and institutions to develop positioning and policy”.
Another interesting finding is that readers who perceived themselves as having a high level of influence were more likely to pass on the brief and keep the messages in circulation. So targeting those ‘movers and shakers’ could provide good outcomes for research communications work.
This is the first time that a randomised control trial was conducted in the field of research communications. While the study has some limitations (including a sample size of over 800 self-selected, highly educated and interested in the topic so not the most representative people we would seek to influence), it is frontier work in trying to test the effectiveness of a knowledge product like a policy brief. 3ie is interested in funding more research in this area. So do share your ideas!
*3ie Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer