How research brokers and intermediaries contribute to evidence based pro-poor policy making: framing the debate

Framing the debate - Geoff Barnard (IDS)

Framing the debate - Geoff Barnard (IDS)

This presentation shared ideas about the ways in which research brokers and intermediaries contribute to other structures of communication, and presented hypotheses to consider over the conference.

Just an ‘in betweener’?
According to Geoff Barnard, Head of IDS’ Information Team the research broker and intermediary sector can be compared to the pond that he dug in his garden last year. At first he had an empty pond full of clean water. A couple of days later things life had begun to invade. After ten days it looked like a green soup but finally after two weeks it had started to become a proper ecosystem.

Governments are placing a greater emphasis on evidence based policy and practice and funders are under pressure to demonstrate impact. People are thinking about communication in more sophisticated ways as we become more aware that the connection between research and policy isn’t a simple straight line. Our market place is becoming crowded with blogs, rss feeds, chat rooms and more. While our information intermediary role isn’t new – journalists, librarians etc have been doing it for some time – the array of roles and approaches is wider. Importantly we’re very deliberately linking research with policy and practice. A quick hands up showed that almost everyone in the room identified themselves as being a member of Geoff’s ‘pond life’.

What’s special about intermediaries? In a world divided into thinkers and doers we’re trying to find a space in the middle where we can do a bit of both.

o We show multiple perspectives – we’re not pushing one simple line or one organisation
o Specialist skills and capacities
o Editorial independence
o Trusted brand – people know that they select and synthesis
o Continuity and critical trust

The five hypotheses
Five hypotheses set down some assumptions about what ‘in-betweeners’ do that will be discussed, modified or thrown out completely by end of conference. The aim is to encapsulate what we mean by research broker role and its functions and limitations. The full hypotheses are far too long for me to type out here but can be read in full here.

At the risk of oversimplifying them I’ve attempted a summary of these hypotheses below…

1. Policy and practice is more likely to be pro-poor if it includes multiple perspectives and a range of  evidence
2. Intermediaries are a new distinct community with an important role to play
3. This role is to present multiple perspectives to the people creating and influencing policy
4. Intermediaries add value to what others are doing in research communication
5. Intermediaries need to be aware of the power they wield and the potential impact of their work

More questions than answers
We were then given 20 minutes to discuss the hypotheses on our tables. It turned out that there weren’t any intermediaries on our table, which consisted of three communication officers (including me), someone who’s role was to support intermediaries and someone who’s organisation is thinking about funding them. Our conversation began with the comment that ‘it’s hard to disagree with these hypotheses,’ but then we began to raise a lot of questions, mostly about the language used. Talking to others over lunch a similar thing seems to have happened in other groups. Here’s a sample of the questions and comments from our table:

o Who decides what evidence is? Is it only pure scientific research? Not all research is good research. It doesn’t necessarily reflect realities on the ground.

o What’s the difference between knowledge and research? Who decides?

o There are lots of nuances within the power relations of international knowledge regimes, which decide what gets funded and what doesn’t.

o Who are the intermediaries what do they look like, how are they judged? What gives them the right to be intermediaries?

o Are intermediaries impartial – they are human too, how impartial can they be? In summaries what gets evaporated, what gets excluded? Some voices are going to get knocked out in the editing process so is it still just the dominating voices being heard?

o Intermediaries have to go out and listen to voices that aren’t being heard

The session finished with a quick vote for who agreed with each hypothesis, who disagreed and who wasn’t sure, thought more needed to be added or was just plain confused. The rough figures are below

o Hypothesis 1: agreed 18, disagreed 20, not sure 14
o Hypothesis 2: agreed 30, disagreed 1, not sure 19
o Hypothesis 3: agreed 19, disagreed 4, not sure 9
o Hypothesis 4: agreed 30, disagreed 0, not sure 12
o Hypothesis 5: agreed 40, disagreed 4, not sure 4

Jo Glyde, IDS

Related links: Research brokers & intermediaries presentation

Presenter: Geoff Barnard, Head of Information Department, Institute of Development Studies, UK
Chair: Faye Reagon, Director of Information Services, HSRC

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