Evidence into policy

Three golden rules for researchers when trying to inform policy

By 09/12/2013

Policy makers seem to make a compelling case for the complexities of evidence-based policy making from their point of view. Researchers also face their own unique challenges when trying to produce evidence that will inform policy. Unfortunately, the world in which we exist rarely allows for the evidence to meet policy demands in the way the political cycle may demand it.

Dr. Charles Griffin (Lead Technical Advisor, ‘Strengthening Institutions to Improve Public Expenditure Accountability’ Global Research Project (GDN PEM)), who has had some success in bridging the evidence to policy divide, outlined  three golden rules that researchers should consider when trying to inform policy through evidence at the GDN PEM policy dialogue event in Jakarta.

Three golden rules for researchers when trying to inform policy

1.     Change happens sporadically. However, moments of change are usually predictable.

Changes to programs rarely happen all the time. There are few opportunities to influence an intervention which gives researchers a significant amount of time to put their evidence base together. Governments typically make changes at a period of elections. Be aware of the political cycle as these are the best moments to inject your research findings.

2.     When change does happen it happens rapidly.

Although there is a large amount of time to develop evidence and convincing arguments, when the time comes for decisions to be made, researchers have a very short amount of time to make their case so they need to ensure that they are ready.

3.     Make a case that reflects an understanding of the policy cycle.

When researchers make a case for a particular policy intervention they should make a case in which results are going to be detectable within a relatively short political cycle. The reality is that politicians and government officials typically have very short life-spans and they need to be able to make a case that allows them to get re-elected. Therefore whatever intervention or change you suggest should have impacts that are detectable in a short period of time.

When you really look at it, the goals of the policy maker and researcher are the same (speaking in an altruistic world), the goal is merely to achieve social change that benefits the most people in the most effective way.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt is this:

Moments of change do not change the underlying problems. They may change the way people talk about the problem but the problems remain the same, thereby meaning your research remains valid. As a researcher all you need to do is repackage and re-label your findings because new people want to call it something else. – Charles Griffin.


If you would like find out more about how the ‘Strengthening Institutions to Improve Public Expenditure Accountability’ project developed policy options and created a tailored approach to research communication visit the  ‘Strengthening Institutions’ mini-site. You can also stay up to date via RSS.