Kirsty Newman has recently taken up the post of Research Uptake Manager at the Department for International Development (DFID). We caught up with her last week to talk about her new role, what she learnt from her time at INASP, and to return to some of the issues she has blogged about on Research to Action in the past.
What are the three most important things you learnt at INASP?
- Honesty about development challenges: I think as an organisation competing for funding you always want to highlight your success stories – and we did have a lot of those. But I think it is also important to be able to talk honestly about the challenges of the work you are doing. In our work with policy makers we encountered a lot of corruption and incompetence and sometimes it was downright depressing. I found that it was really important that as a team we were able to talk about these challenges and how we could deal with them.
- Really building sustainable capacity: Sustainable capacity building is not just about ‘transfer’ of knowledge/skills from one place to another – it’s about building the capacity locally to build capacity. One thing that was really new for me when I started at INASP was that wherever possible, they avoid ‘parachuting’ in experts from the north to deliver one-off training workshops and instead work with local experts and support them to become more effective ‘capacity builders’.
- Training quality matters: A lot of capacity building work involves training of one form or another. An important lesson I learnt at INASP is that people who know ‘stuff’ don’t necessarily know how to teach that ‘stuff’ to other people effectively. So a big part of supporting local capacity builders is training them in how to deliver effective, learner-centred training.
What will your new role at DFID involve?
My new job is as a Research Uptake Manager in the ‘Evidence into Action’ team. My job has two strands – one is managing a suite of research uptake programmes. These are programmes which aim to enhance access to and use of research by a variety of audiences from the general public to policy makers. The second strand is advising DFID research teams (in my case I will be working with the Governance, Conflict and Social Development team and the Human Development team) on how they can support research uptake with the research programmes they fund.
Whose evidence counts in evidence informed policy?
Personally, I use the term evidence-informed policy, to refer to policy informed by research evidence. Having said that, I believe that policy makers should always be informed by a range of factors. I don’t think that research evidence can or should tell policy makers what decision they ought to make but in some cases it can provide useful information which can inform that decision. As for the question of what counts as good research, I have written a blog about that so I won’t get into that debate again here!
How does your job relate to DFID policy making?
Public policy is made by the government ministers, not the civil servants however we do have a role in advising them and making decisions on the best ways to implement policy. So for example part of my job will be advising and supporting across DFID on issues related to use of research evidence.
If you were king for the day, how would you make the research to action interface better?
I would pay more attention to how well people are able to use research. We often assume that if we communicate research effectively, it will be used but in many cases the people who we expect to use it (whether they are researchers, journalists, policy makers or whoever) don’t have the ability to find, analyse and interpret research.
Secondly, if we are supporting training/capacity building events, I do not think we should be paying people to attend! I think the culture of being paid to attend training (whether via sitting fees, per diems, unrealistic travel allowances or whatever) is corrosive – and unfortunately it has become part of the culture in many developing countries (particularly amongst policy makers). It can lead to people seeing training as a punishment which they must be compensated for rather than an opportunity – and it leads to far too much really bad training being tolerated!