|Part I: Research Uptake Policy series – tensions between researchers, policy analysts and politicians|
|Wednesday, 30 April 2014 12:25|
Dr Sara Grobbelaar, a Researcher at CREST, considers a range of authors’ views and explanations for the often troubled relationship between policy makers and researchers, and reviews a few suggestions on how to overcome some of these problems.
The first of this four-part blog series on Research to Policy begins by pulling focus on Research Uptake tensions, and considering the main stakeholders through a narrower lens. What is often at the root of many inter-relationship tensions? Differing perspectives and expectations.
Edwards (2005)provides a very useful analysis on the mismatch between the nature of the questions to be addressed and academic conventions. She concludes that research for policy questions are often defined by those outside academia and that these questions also very seldom fall in a specific discipline.
A typology of the gaps between researchers and policy analysts/makers
Overcoming these issues
The literature outlines a range of mechanisms through which the gaps outlined above could be ameliorated. We consider some of these measures in this section.
Bowen (2005)provides a useful framework for the development of a research uptake pathway. He considers a range of factors that need to be considered to ensure that the uptake pathway is well-conceived.
Considering this from a supply-side situation, the researcher should ensure that recognition is given to the various types of evidence and how that is used in policy making. Here Bowen suggests that one does not only recognise the “hard facts” such as research evidence in the form of empirical data, time-series analysis or observations. There is also knowledge of the problem and how it is perceived by the users of the information, the various views held by users, and the political agenda.
This links up with the context and consideration of the capacities required for implementation of a research uptake pathway. Planning is needed for practical side of implementation of research. Capacities and the environment on various levels determine the likelihood of uptake :
These points provide a framework for the types of capacity building that need to take place to create a research uptake adoption pathway.
A few mechanisms that are useful in the process
Collaborations: Creating an environment where problem solvers and decision implementers collaborate may aid to develop a balance between the development of supply-side and demand side capacities. The creation of incentives for collaborations (e.g. recognition, awards and funding) may help to support researchers, practitioners and policy-influencers to collaborate on research.
Networks: To aid in development of capacity at individual, organisational and systems levels the participation of various actors in policy and research networks will facilitate interaction between researchers and decision makers. Research networks usually include a range of experts and people from various backgrounds in order to develop research that is relevant and adequately addresses issues of the present and future. In networks the utilisation of effective long term communication platforms is one of most valuable functions. It is also important to ensure that information needs flow both ways, i.e. researchers need to speak to policy-influencers and policy-makers, but also need to listen to ensure that they adequately understand the problems posed to policy makers.
Interchange of individuals in networks and environments: Interchange of people is a useful channel for exchange of information. Here academics could be placed for a period of time in policy making units or positions and vice versa, the policy makers may be seconded for a research fellowship in the higher education sector, to up-date knowledge in various research areas and to collaborate in research projects.
Intermediaries and knowledge brokers: Intermediaries or “knowledge brokers” have been identified widely in the literature as playing a major role, especially in the developed world as “knowledge managers, linking agents and capacity builders” (Przybycien et al., 2010). These professionals play a key role in collating and synthesising information from a range of sources and preparing it in formats that are accessible to decision makers. These individuals may be recruited from government , industry and academia.
Long term planning: It is important that researchers do not fall in the trap of being reactive; supplying evidence and solutions for immediate issues. Focussing too much on the demand side may lock researchers in short-term projects. In designing their research they need to consider the development of capacity in areas that may be required in future, and as agendas change. Long-term strategies to influence policy, focussing on the supply side of knowledge for policy are important, researchers need to anticipate issues and questions and have verifiable data available to support decision-making.
Communication planning and training: Researchers need to be able to plan communication strategies and plans that are economical and effective. There should be training and resources available for researchers to be able to deliver findings in formats that are accessible and popular with policy- influencers and policy-makers, for example using the media platforms, and writing policy briefs and short papers. Succinct presentations that address the issue directly are most likely to be read and remembered.
Developing absorptive capacities: Demand for evidence may be stimulated through developing capacity in government departments and ministries to use research evidence in decision-making. Here one may assist decision makers to learn how to critically assess research.
D Stone, S Maxwell, M. K. (2001). Bridging research and policy. Workshop DFiD, Radcliffe House, Warwick University. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/csgr/research/keytopic/other/bridging.pdf
Edwards, M. (2005). Social Science Research and Public Policy: Narrowing the Divide1. Australian Journal of Public Administration. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8500.2005.00417.x/abstract
Livny, E., Mehendale, A. & Vanags, A. (2006). Bridging the research policy gaps in developing and transition countries: analytical lessons and Proposals for action. Retrieved from http://biceps.org/assets/docs/izpetes-zinojumi/BRPsynthesis_final_version_December8_with_all_changes _205.pdf
PRZYBYCIEN, K., BECKMANN, K., PRATT, K., COOPER, A. & CRISHNA, N. (2010) The ISSUES Project: An Example of Knowledge Brokering at the Research Programme Level. 2nd International Conference on Innovation through Knowledge Transfer: InnovationKT2010. Coventry, UK.
This is the first blog in a four-part “Research Uptake: Knowledge to Policy” blog series:
Part 2 discussed a meta-analysis of the knowledge to policy field.
Part 3: Research Uptake Policy series: Key heuristics, metaphors, theories and frameworks
Part 4: Towards synthesised theories of policy change
The essay on which this series is based can be found here
Dr Sara Grobbelaar is a researcher at CREST, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.