How do you ensure use of research?
Jennifer Liguton from PIDS began by talking about an annual initiative held in the Philippines called the Development Policy Research Month (DPRM). A really interesting programme that aims to help promote a culture of research through activities such as workshops and research fairs. It gets broad participation from government, academic/research institutions and media but also the general public. In particular they try to target students who they feel could become the new breed of researchers and policymakers.
Jonathan Carter of HSRC then spoke about the MOST Policy Research Tool (www.unesco.org/shs/most/tool), a joint initiative with UNESCO which aims to provide easy access to research briefs with options for comparative analysis of different country experiences. You can pick and choose what information you get – just an abstract, the research recommendations or even a bit of both. However, difficulties lie in ensuring the quality of the research as well as ensuring its actual use.
Jo Carpenter from the RELAY programme at PANOS spoke not as an intermediary, but rather as someone who supports the media in its role as an intermediary. Their support varies in different contexts – in Malawi, they found that journalists only attend launch events which give brief accounts of research. They do little in-depth analysis so RELAY has various programmes to support journalists’ capacity to engage with research at the start. In South Asia, with in built interaction between academia and the media already, RELAY concentrate instead on supporting journalists to promote marginalised voices and give a human perspective to the research. They found that media can often just portray images of conflict and terrorism rather than human rights and local issues covered by local researchers.
Around the room there were lots of other examples of how organisations promote uptake around the world and try to ‘make information more edible’. As repositories, ensuring that research is used is difficult and question marks remain over people’s skills, abilities and confidence to use research. Do we need to provide more information on how to use information? One participant regarded intermediaries as the cake, but felt we needed to look at icing on the cake in order to impact on policy. Do the mass of intermediaries contribute to information overload? Are they all competing to reach policymakers?
It was not clear if the three initiatives spoke true of all the hypotheses in the conference. However, they were all adding value and creating spaces and new communication structures to enable learning. Intermediaries’ role in highlighting multiple perspectives and the power of the in-between depends very much on whose voices you’re highlighting and listening to. One participant asked where we find substantiated knowledge from a grassroots perspective that is ‘validated’. Others asked if the politics involved in policymaking be communicated in a free way, rather than remain a hidden undertone not talked about.
Yaso Kunaratnam, IDS
- Philippine Development Policy Research Month, Jennifer Liguton, PIDS, Philippines;
- MOST Policy Research Tool, Jonathon Carter, HSRC, South Africa
- PANOS work with journalists as a means of creating demand for research, Joanne Carpenter, RELAY Programme, PANOS UK
Chair: Dr Mark Hepworth, Senior Lecturer, Loughborough University, UK