Working for SciDev.Net – a non-for-profit organisation – as Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator I have managed a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative global research projects over the last 2 years. During SciDev.Net’s Global Survey we explored the issue of mainstreaming more evidence into policy-making by engaging with policy makers and development stakeholders, as well as others working in the media, private and academic sector – reaching in total around 4000 people mainly from the developing world or global south.
The results of this survey, disseminated through the SciDev.Net Global Review 2012, showed us that the majority of NGOs we interviewed (around 70%) do not currently use science and technology (S&T) information for their decisions and that the policy-making context in the developing world is more informal. Often, such information is only used very selectively after decisions have been made to justify the course of action taken.
Other challenges relate to the general lack of capacity of policy stakeholders to find, appraise and use evidence; a lack of capacity to communicate with non-specialist audiences by the research/academic community and a lack of competent science journalists. In addition, many countries suffer from lack of access to governmental and academic sources of information and/or a lack of freedom and security to report on such issues. In such varied contexts, is there a blue print for ensuring evidence is used for policy and development? I believe so, and below I present a way forward based on the research we have been conducting as SciDev.Net:
1. Invest time and money increasing skills
The nature of the skills required depends on the stakeholder. For example if you are an academic/researcher trying to mainstream evidence into policy and development then you are most likely to need to know how to talk to non-specialist audiences in a jargon free language, providing socio-economic analysis of your findings – whereas for a journalist the focus would be on how to report S&T information in a competent manner.
2. Go beyond the academic/research sector, appeal to policy and development practitioners by providing access to jargon-free information via appropriate channels
Most researchers focus on publishing in academic journals, yet these channels do not reach and engage the wider public or the policy and development practitioners – there is a need to find outlets that do so and focus on communicating findings in an easily understandable fashion (i.e. no jargon) in order to increase potential for reach and uptake. The choice of media channels (radio, TV, print, online) would very much depend on your target audience. In general those most marginalised would rely on radio and other traditional formats to consume information, whereas policy makers might use the internet more often but their usage would be restricted to certain governmental sources so get to know your audience.
3. Provide socio-economic analysis of research findings
A common challenge identified by all our respondents was the lack of social and economic implications of research findings (e.g. impacts on directly affected groups or costs of implementation). This is seen as key for usage of evidence in policy and development arenas yet it is a rare occurrence. In some cases, this analysis needs to include the provision of environmental and political implications that relate to your target audience.
4. Invest time in raising your profile and/or that of your organisation.
Many people do not consume information or visit particular media outlets simply because they have never heard about them. In the case of evidence, readers tend to engage more when they regard a source as being trustworthy and authoritative, whose information is accurate, complete and reliable. Creating and raising a profile with the above attributes would help increase reach and uptake.
5. Forge relationships with key stakeholders for policy and development mediation
Sometimes even with all the right skills and information you still need to find S&T champions and/or influential people to help mainstream evidence into policy and development spheres. They can help with language (using the right words for the working environment), the timely sharing of information and when it matters (at decision-making stages, before major decisions have been taken) and ultimately they can push in the right direction if they have a say in the decision-making process – that is the case with the private sector, which according to our respondents, seems to be the most influential policy stakeholder.
It is evident that a certain amount of flexibility in how to fine-tune strategies for mainstreaming evidence is needed and is very much dependent on context and your target audience. However the above five points should be very relevant to all researchers, knowledge brokers and stakeholders around the world, offering good leads for action towards research uptake.