Impact Practitioners

Seven recommendations for better engagement between academics and policymakers

By 12/01/2023

This 15-page academic paper published in the Policy Design and Practice journal analyses the activities of over 300 organizations investing in research-policy engagement, draws insights from policy studies and presents seven key challenges for the impact agenda. The challenges simultaneously serve as general recommendations for funders seeking to invest in successful research-policy engagement strategies and researchers involved in delivering them. 

The paper argues that the majority of current initiatives focus on helping academics take their work forward. However, academics often lack training in developing relationships with policymakers and understanding the policy environment. As a result, their research distribution has little impact. The following seven recommendations should therefore help you avoid the common pitfalls of research-policy engagement, develop more efficient engagement strategies and identify areas for future investment to maximise research impact.

The first recommendation for academics and organisations is to adapt to existing systems and practices. Oftentimes, researchers say they struggle to identify the most relevant policymakers or know their opinion on using evidence. This could be solved by providing academic-policymaker exchanges or investing in activities that help researchers identify relevant policymakers, frame problems in a convincing way or recognise the best moments for policy influencing. 

Secondly, we should clarify who the engagement is for. While it is necessary to empower individual researchers, it is also important to support institutions and systems. Instead of leaving the impact solely on academics, we could improve the rules and norms that facilitate it. 

The third recommendation is to clarify the purpose of engagement. Be clear about the policy problem you’re trying to solve and specify the aims of each form of engagement. Then you should also consider whether your goals are achievable. Try to become familiar with policymaking processes and understand possible trade-offs for engagement and impact, such as accepting minimal public or professional credit or seeking compromise. 

You should also evaluate how far you are willing to go as a researcher – explore potential ethical dilemmas and think about the different roles you might play while working towards policy research impact. 

Next, think about what forms of evidence are valuable. It’s useful to cooperate with policymakers and potentially also co-produce the research with them. Lastly, be realistic about your expectations for engagement and recognise its limits.

Overall, these recommendations are useful for thinking about research-policy engagement in a more holistic way. Being aware of the various challenges should help us think about the purpose and impact of various activities. 

This resource is targeted at both funders of research and researchers involved in policy engagement activities.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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