Going Beyond ‘Context Matters’

By 22/04/2020

The paper Knowledge Into Policy: Going beyond ‘Context Matters’ is from the Context Matters initiative created by Politics and Ideas and INASP that aimed to shed light on the complexity of context and its implications for using evidence.

The 73-page paper presents a framework designed to help users (policymakers, researchers, practitioners, donors) better assess their contexts and work out where the barriers are more significant and where the potential for change may be greater. It is an invaluable resource for those looking for a decision-informing tool that focuses on how to promote change, rather than the theory behind it.

The paper includes an executive summary that is relatively short and very clear. It is worth reading this first, as it will direct you to and provide and overview of each section of the paper.

A short introduction examines how context is currently often viewed: as an external explanatory factor beyond our control. The authors investigate how and when there is ‘fruitful interaction’ between researchers and policymakers. This investigation results in the identification of dimensions across which context matters, which then form the basis of the proposed framework.

The paper then defines concepts. These sections are thorough and, at times, linguistically technical, and so those looking for quick working definitions would be advised to check the terminology in Annex 1. The ‘Understanding Knowledge’ section also considers the paper’s assumptions about the policymaking process, and examines how decision-makers use evidence.

The framework identifies six components of context. These are divided into two sections: external and internal.

  • External
    • Macro-context, e.g. over-arching forces at national level (political, economic, social and cultural)
    • Intra- and inter-institutional linkages, e.g. stakeholders that interact with governmental institutions
  • Internal
    • Culture (set of shared basic assumptions learned by a group)
    • Organisational capacity (ability of an organisation to use its resources to perform)
    • Organisational management processes (how each governmental institution organises its work to achieve its mission and goals)
    • Other critical resources, e.g. staff and skillsets

The paper includes a literature review, two sets of interviews, and a refining step, all of which are explained in a section on methodology.

The second publication, ‘Starting from context: How to make strategic decisions to promote a better interaction between knowledge and policy’, complements the more academic publication. It covers how to (1) use the framework by exploring different dimensions and their interrelationships; (2) explore the practical implications of the framework on how evidence can be used in governmental institutions and (3)explore good practices, mostly from developing countries.