Conference report: How research brokers and intermediaries support evidence-based pro-poor policy and practice

February 23, 2010

Report from the Locating the Power of In-between conference

The report from the Locating the Power of In-between conference held in Pretoria, South Africa, 2008, takes an in depth look at the role of intermediaries in supporting and enabling evidence based policy.  It builds on the rich discussion at the event and aims to raise awareness of the contributions that intermediaries can make in development processes.

The report identifies key issues from the conference and presents them for further analysis, discussion and action. The findings from the conference show that:

  • the issue of how evidence can inform policy and practice is an important shared concern and that the contribution of intermediary actors within that picture is significant and worthy of further attention
  • there are a wide range of areas in which intermediary actors have the potential to address barriers to evidence-based policy, particularly by facilitating information flows between development actors and helping to set agendas in research, policy and practice arenas
  • intermediary roles are not currently being played as extensively as they might, and the intermediary sector needs to step up to fulfil its potential in the sector

Since the conference, a lot of work has been done analysing and responding to the ideas and issues that emerged from the conference.  The I-K-Mediary Network, a network of people actively involved in intermediary work, many of whom attended the conference, has continued to develop and grow and continues to champion the role of intermediaries in development. Last year the group undertook case study work to understand its influence in change processes in different contexts, and also recently met in the UK to reflect on the conference findings and discuss areas for future collaboration. The report from this meeting entitled ‘Intermediary understanding, impact and action’ and a summary of the case study work entitled Intermediary Impact’ are both available at

Please do share your reflections, thoughts and ideas on reading the conference report and related follow up work.

Policymakers engaging with an evidence base – audio recording

May 26, 2009

In this audio recording, Megan Lloyd Laney, Communications adviser in the Central Research Department, shares her perspectives on the problem of evidence-based policy-making.

Being asked to speak about policy making processes on behalf on DFID, she says, felt like a “scary deal”.

Research is not consensual but we need to look at different knowledge and narratives.  Within DFID itself, there is belief in engaging with an evidence base to inform policy, but in practice they are unable to.

Megan outlines some of the disablers and enablers to engaging with an evidence base:

•    Policymaking is “messy and grubby” – there are lots of factors involved – negotiation, the art of politics, institutional capacity to capture from all the different evidence.

•    People are too busy responding to national imperatives and regional programmes of support to engage with an evidence base.

•    DFID frequently changes policy narratives (e.g. sustainable livelihoods, natural resource development, and climate change). These changing labels disable the outside world from understanding and engaging.

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Learning and future action: conference evaluation

May 20, 2009

A summary of findings from the conference evaluation

76% of particpants who completed the evalaution questionnaire from the Power of In-between conference felt the conference met or exceeded their expectations.  Participants thought that in one way or another the conference had helped them to:

•    Debate and discuss the role of intermediaries: Helping to define, understand, broaden, clarify, value and explore the challenges relating to the role of the intermediary/research broker

“[My understanding of intermediary roles] has been blown up! There are horizontal roles, vertical roles, one-way, two-way, multi-way, 360°”

•    Share lessons and experiences with other intermediaries and learn from others:  Particularly in relation to gaining new ideas, comparing experiences and setting their work in a wider context.

“[There was] A sense of connection with other people facing the same issues.”

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Intermediaries are a powerful force for social change

March 6, 2009

An affirmation of the potential contribution of knowledge and information intermediaries to social change is one of the outcomes of the Between Ourselves workshop. The workshop report identifies 5 insights about the role of intermediary work and how it can be strengthened.

The workshop was the second meeting of the I-K-Mediary Group an emerging network of research intermediaries who work to increase access to and use of research in development contexts by providing portals, gateways or reporting services.   Key insights and outcomes from the workshop were as follows:

1. Information and knowledge intermediary work is a powerful force for social change
The conference and workshop illustrated the range of roles that intermediaries can play; the diversity of contexts in which the role is being played and the range of stakeholders affected. Intermediary work can enhance information flows between actors, stimulate demand for information and maintain access to information over time.

2. Different roles for knowledge and information intermediaries: ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’
During the Power of In-between conference, some intermediaries identified the need to go beyond playing a “repository” role for information if they want to achieve their objectives around informing policy and practice processes. They argued that proactive communication and engagement with stakeholders are necessary. Exploration during the workshop found both roles were required; characterised as just in-case and just-in-time. In some cases one organisation can play both roles, in other cases collaboration between people with feet in different camps and skills to match is just as effective.

3. We need a greater understanding of the actors we serve and their role in policy processes
A deep understanding of the actors we seek to reach and the changes we seek to bring for them is necessary if we are to contribute effectively to greater use of evidence in policy and practice. This understanding should drive all of our work, from strategy level thinking, to website design, editorial policy and monitoring and evaluation.

4. Collaboration between people undertaking intermediary work is a central means of achieving our objectives
At both the workshop and conference there was an emerging sense of a sector; one that would be stronger with greater common identity, shared understandings, values and standards, and one whose members collaborate to realise their objectives. From benchmarking our work in comparison to each other, joint investigations into impact to content sharing; collaboration between intermediaries in different spheres was an ongoing theme.

5. Willingness to work together to create structures for shared learning and collaboration
At the end of the workshop, participants affirmed their commitment to continue working together and to creating the means for doing so. We agreed to develop the I-K-Mediary Group from an informal network towards a formal I-K-Mediary Programme. Individuals from 10 organisations volunteered to be part of a Core Group to develop a vision and mission, design a programme that will meet the needs of the broader group and to seek the funding to make it a reality.

The full report of the workshop containing discussions on conceptual, technical, editorial and monitoring and evaluation aspects of intermediary work is at: Between Ourselves: Report from the second meeting of the I-K-Mediary Group  July 2008, Centurion, South Africa

The evaluation of the workshop is also available to download here

Knowledge intermediaries in Africa

December 8, 2008

‘Is Information the solution’ is an article on intermediaries inspired by the Power of In-between conference. It was written by Richard Humphries, an independent consultant who works on knowledge initiatives in Africa.

Knowledge intermediaries, he suggests, “possess much power to shape development discourse” by constant scanning, sifting and aggregation of perspectives. He asks what more can be done to promote the strength of knowledge intermediaries in Africa?

You can read the full article commissioned by Inter Press Service (IPS) here.

Also check out Richard Humphries blog which highlights issues in the African knowledge and networking field.

Open access movements in developing countries

September 16, 2008

Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata, Executive Director from UNISA responds to questions raised at the conference about whether the benefits of open access are limited in developing countries. She stresses the importance of the open access movement for researchers in developing countries and argues that it can support greater access to local research. She talks about how institutions need to change and promote their own researchers work in-country rather than purchasing from elsewhere, and encourage researchers to publish in open access journals.

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“Policy process is a narrative” – audio recording

September 16, 2008

In this audio recording, Dr Temba Masilela from HSRC shares his perspectives on the problem of ‘evidence-based policy-making’ speaking about policy processes in South Africa. Having worked as a policy advisor and journalist and prior to this been an exile in Kenya, Temba speaks about how we should approach policy not just in terms of research, but as a narrative; it needs to be contextualised.

Dr Temba Masilela speaks on the opening panel at the Power of In-Between conference

Dr Temba Masilela speaks on the opening panel at the Power of In-Between conference

Taking an example of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, he asks what are the issues and imperatives underlying what happened – migration, crime, poverty, competition for resources? People see different narratives and framings and we need to analyse policy based on this.

Temba outlines a definition of the public policy process: “it’s a narrative about the authoritative allocation of values and resources”. It’s a narrative because it’s a story with many questions and answers:

  • It has particular context, actors, relationships, plot and perspectives
  • It is a story about why, who benefits, how should it be done, who bears the consequences and costs?
  • It has an ending, happy or sad
  • It is interactive, iterative and about engagement
  • It has a history to it, a present and a future
  • It requires some suspension of disbelief as well as trust that it is beneficial and will result in desired outcome

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