Building a strategy

Metaphors and Maps: The Institute of Economic Growth’s research engagement journey

By 03/09/2014

This blog is part of a showcase of exhibits from South Asian think tanks participating in the Think Tank Initiative’s Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) programme. You may view other entries on the PEC Showcase Overview Page. 

Can we pause to “see” and “experience” a metaphor?  The word “journey” has been used consciously and not by accident. The Policy Engagement and Communication (PEC) program at Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) has been a journey for building alignment, converting opportunities, navigating and overcoming doubt, defining challenges, nurturing and playing-out prototypes. 

Steve Jobs faced challenges during his “early days” at Apple before going on to produce digital technology which has defined the early part of the 21st century. IEG is in its “early days” of crafting pathways and products for research engagement in the 21st century. IEG’s PEC journey resonates with a saying attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed that is the only thing that ever has.” An important part of this journey is to develop and document IEG’s research engagement and communication work, and to monitor changes within the institution.

The Policy Engagement and Communication (PEC) programme’s initial objective at IEG was to develop a strategic approach to research engagement and communication. One of the intentions was to increase audience engagement for research that is in-progress. The research that has provided the focus for PEC is a case study on the political economy of India’s growth experience: Boom or Bust? The Political Economy of India’s Growth Acceleration, 1993-2010.  This case study is part of a larger research program based at the Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) Centre in Manchester. IEG is a partner in the consortium. 

IEG’s showcase is a collection of slides that illustrates the work-in-progress being done on engagement and communication using this case study. The exhibits are the outcomes from IEG’s involvement in the PEC program.

Three engagement challenges were taken-up as part of the PEC programme’s engagement at IEG:

  • The first challenge was to organize research evidence for real-time mobilization.
  • The second challenge was to communicate complex economic concepts and ideas in a popular format without diluting the meaning.
  • The third challenge was to build an audience.

The overall aim of the three challenges was to bridge the gap between policy and practice. 

1. Organizing research evidence for real-time mobilization
One of the first steps was to synthesize the case study, identify and organize the central ideas, insights, concepts and evidence. Mind-mapping was used for the process of research synthesis, to separate and prioritize the data, and to identify what is important from what is not important, and to look for new patterns and insights. 

Some of the patterns and insights identified from analyzing the synthesis increased our understanding of the emerging direction of the research and its potential audience.

The purpose of the synthesis was to organize the data for real-time mobility, to create a common “mind” between the researcher and the communications team and to leverage the preparation activities to engage other stakeholders at IEG. The synthesis also provides a reflective, visual journal about the origins of the research, along with notes, snippets of relevant conversations, images and ideas that occurred during the IEG PEC programme’s journey.

2. Communicating complex concepts and ideas on economics 
For this challenge, visual mental models were developed to capture the central ideas using graphics. A visual framework or a “storyboard” was created to synthesise ideas. Through an iterative process this storyboard it moved from a “hunch” to a powerful and coherent story.

3. Build engagement with the research 
The researchers set the direction for this challenge by sharing their intent (Page 2). To bridge the intent to action, a workshop was held in July 2014 in Delhi, to which select people were invited. Post-event, the research team had one-on-one discussions with specific individuals to deepen the engagement. Data from intervening “touch-points” such as: readers of articles published in The Hindu; and dialogues with academics and policy-makers is being collated to facilitate greater understanding of this audience –  the questions they are asking and the engagement experience they are seeking.
Slide 8 captures work in progress to build audience and engagement.

The showcase from IEG ends with a short video in which  a researcher, Dr Sabyasachi Kar, shares his message on “what sticks” about the engagement experience to date. The last slide (Page 9) is a photograph of the researcher and the team working on research engagement and communication at IEG. 

Showcase exhibit #1: View IEG’s Metaphor and Maps: The research engagement journey of IEG

Showcase exhibit #2: What sticks about research engagement (Dr Sabyasachi Kar)

1. David Sibbet. Visual Leaders. New Tools for Visioning, Management, and Organizational Change. 2013
2. American entrepreneur Nick Hanauer quoted in the book, Theory U. Leading from the Future as It Emerges. C. Otto Scharmer. 2007
3. Kunal Sen (IDPM, University of Manchester, UK), Sabyasachi Kar (IEG, India) and Jagdish Sahoo (IEG, India)
4. Sabyasachi Kar, The Hindu (June, 2014)


This post has been produced as part of the Think Tank Initiative’s Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) programme. However,  these are the author’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of TTI. You can find all ongoing outputs related to this project via the PEC mini-site on Research to Action. To get updates from the PEC programme and be part of the discussion sign-up to our RSS or email updates. You can also follow our progress via Twitter using the following hashtag #ttipec.

Image courtesy of Susan Koshy