A lively afternoon at the 3ie workshop as Research to Action has lift off!


Tuesday the 25th September saw individuals from across the globe meet to discuss Policy Influence Monitoring and celebrate the official launch of Research to Action at the Academy for Innovation and Research, Cornwall, UK.

The workshop coincided with the meeting this week of international delegates involved in the Policy Influence Monitoring (PIM) project, funded by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). The PIM project is a three year global venture designed to monitor and evaluate the policy influence of independent evaluations being conducted across Africa, Latin America and South East Asia. The project is committed to supporting the grantees in order to maximise the value and impact of the Impact Evaluations.

Facilitated by Pete Cranston, of Euforic services, Tuesday’s workshop and launch were filled with lively discussion around what constitutes policy Influence and how it can be measured. With participants directly involved in international development research, from organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), CABI, the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) and the Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), as well as academics involved in research and policy in the UK, the workshop was enlivened by diverse voices, opinions and approaches.

To kick start proceedings, Megan Lloyd-Laney, director of CommsConsult and a member of the 3ie PIM project, took to the stage to interview John Young from ODI on how the 3iePIM project was of relevance to participants in the room. John highlighted how the work undertaken in the 3iePIM project may benefit the wider research community. Referring to the increasing interest in research impact, John Young defined the project as “an opportunity to learn about what the factors are around how research is done which can improve the value of the impact of that research.”

He highlighted the generic challenge to PIM presented by time delay; the period of time between research being carried out and policy being implemented means that the visibility of a connection between the two is muddied. He commented that often it is not one piece of research but many, working in indirect collaboration, which impact upon policy. “It’s very rare that one piece of research has a clearly defined impact on policy.”

The workshop was structured into two sessions which saw participants divided into smaller groups to discuss two key questions:

      I.         How should we define what constitutes policy influence?

     II.         How can policy influence be measured?

Over the afternoon it emerged that perception of policy influence appeared to be governed by political context. The groups outlined case studies from their own experience which had influenced policy but in each the pathways seemed to be carved out by social and governmental demand.

Over the course of the workshop three clear themes emerged:

1. Demand

Continuing from John Young’s assertion that one of the “main determining features [of policy influence] is the political context in which the work is done”, questions were raised around how demand can be created.

Peter Da Costa, a development specialist who joined the workshop remotely from Nairobi, commented on the need for mutability in planning research projects likely to impact upon policy. Da Costa pointed out, “There are lots of contextual shifts which mean you have to come up with new evidence and new ways of keeping your research on the agenda.”

With engagement identified as a defining factor in eliciting interest and demand, the need to develop a core strategy which creates debate in the public domain in order to bring about demand for policy change was highlighted by Megan Lloyd-Laney and Priyanthi Fernando, of CEPA. The practicalities of this strategy engaged with the second theme.

2. Attribution

Perception of policy influence was identified as relying substantially on attribution. Christelle Chappoy, a Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer with 3ie, gave an instance where research in West Bengal was directly acknowledged by the ministry via a testimonial.

This led to questions over whether requests for testimonials could be factored into the planning and design of research – thus clearly indicating which types of research impacted most upon policy in different contexts, and whether stakeholders should or could be identified in advance or whether policy change is effected by organic influences outside the control of the researchers.

As a means of establishing methods of identifying attribution, groups looked at differnt engagement and influencing strategies  (i.e. media engagement) and the assumptions attached to the way we monitor these differnt approaches.

The media was recognised by Megan Lloyd-Laney as “an important policy lever” but not an end in itself. By incorporating media strategies and using altmetrics, participants recognised that there were ways of tracking the reach of research but concrete indicators of attribution remained elusive.

3. The value of policy change as an indicator for research impact

David Hawkins, Associate Professor of Design and Associate Dean (Research & Innovation) at University College Falmouth, raised a pertinent question early in the workshop, over whether the end goal should always be policy influence.

“If you only have policy driven research you cut out a range of necessary research…you don’t know what’s useful in advance.”

This point, once raised, sparked debate over whether policy change was the best measure of research impact. It raised issues surrounding whether policy change for its own sake was a positive outcome, with Laura Jump from Development Initiatives asking “If you can influence policy without making change, do we discuss one, the other, or both?”

By the end of the afternoon three main questions had emerged around these main themes:

  1. How do you measure the value of research impact?
  2. How can policy influence be attributed to any one piece of research?
  3. Is the influence of demand led research monitored differently to supply led?

With the questions formulated, discussions continued as drinks were on hand to celebrate the launch of Research to Action.

Andrew Clappison of CommsConsult, also working on the 3iePIM project, said a few words stressing “Research to Action will not be a success without the support of the wider development community. We are all working towards similar goals and we need to unite around initiatives like this to ensure that they meet their potential. The Research to Action door is very much open to everyone”. He also thanked CommsConsult, CABI and Euforic Services for their help and support in setting up the platform.

This workshop brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds. By establishing common ground between UK scholars and International development research professionals the discussion inhabited a space where all participants were able to view their respective fields of expertise from a distance allowing refreshing perspectives.

Pete Cranston summed up the workshop:

“It was fascinating being in the middle of this and I am reminded of the centrality of networking in achieving change, ensuring relationships so that serendipitously, things can happen.”

With the 3iePIM project in its initial stages and researchers in the UK facing the challenges of REF, the questions raised yesterday are the first step in finding necessary answers.

Now officially launched, Research to Action hopes to provide a space where discussions, like the one held yesterday, can progress and develop; where researchers can continue to formulate questions and where, through effective knowledge exchange, those questions can be answered.

For more on the discussion, and to join in, follow #3iePIM on twitter. To see photos from the day, visit the Research to Action Facebook page.