“Thorny issues” and issues emerging for research brokers and intermediaries

This plenary session aimed to address some of the ‘thorny issues’ for intermediaries which have emerged over the course of the past two days. The chair, Catherine Fisher, invited suggestions from the floor on what some of these issues might be. The participants then formed groups to tackle each one separately and came up with key points and, in some cases, ideas for next steps:

1. The definition of the term ‘pro-poor’

  • ‘Pro-poor’ tends to be defined in economic terms but it is much broader than that. The economic element is only one (and not the first) of many
  • Framing the role of intermediaries in terms of ‘pro-poorness’ moves the debate away from the critical underlying problems
  • Inequality rather than poverty should take centre stage

2. Trust and neutrality

  • The issue of trust is pertinent in terms of content, funding, synergies and collaborations
  • No-one is truly neutral. We are all to some extent interest-based
  • To whom do we have to demonstrate credibility?
  • Trust is dynamic and is bound up with values and cultures
  • There needs to be a level of balance in the range of voices and diversification intermediaries can present
  • There is a need to further explore the issue of transparency of intermediaries
  • Our power as intermediaries lies in networks

3. Duplication and collaboration

  • Duplication can be both productive (e.g for different audiences) and unproductive
  • We need to map out our niches and identify areas in which partnerships can be made more efficient and effective.
  • Possible areas for collaboration include: standards; copyright and access; and tools ad technology (software)

Next steps:

o Creating fora/communities of practice with thematic/regional focus
o Exploring the role of donors in avoiding duplication of funding and scaling up engagement

4. Standards

From this group it quickly became clear that it would be more appropriate to talk about principles rather than standards (which might stifle innovation). Much of the discussion took place in the context of how funders can support intermediaries, including:

  • Developing shared principles around the sourcing process
  • Defining different niches
  • Issues around funding, including:
    – long term vs short term (and the implications for innovation, capacity building and space for   new actors)
    – split portfolios from funders (to allow for new ideas)
    – possible funding around different contexts and thematic areas

Next steps:

o Encouraging funders to consult around the criteria they use when supporting intermediary work
o Exploring the potential for basket funding. Funded organisations could encourage links to facilitate this
o Organisations could be more transparent about M&E, and share this information
o Funded organisations could help inform funders who often have limited resources to develop criteria

5. Recognition/motivation

  • Intermediary work tends to be issue driven
  • Motivation often comes from genuine concern for social responsibility but can also be driven by certain agendas and personal ambition
  • Intermediaries operate at different levels and consequently their motivation varies (and is dynamic)
  • There is a tension between collaboration and competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace

Next steps:

o Encouraging intermediaries to be open about their motives and their position
o Developing best practices

6. Targeting both policy and practice

The question of whether policy drives practice or vice versa depends on the sector, and often it feeds both ways. In many contexts policy-making processes are not clear and transparent.

  • Intermediaries need to think more about how to transfer knowledge across contexts
  • Researchers need to think about both the policy and practical implications in their work
  • In some cases the same research can be used to inform both policy and practice
  • Researchers fall broadly into two categories: those who have a set mandate and those who write for publishing and peer review
  • There is a need to measure the impact of research on both policy and practice

7. Information Literacy and capacity building of end users

This involves building people’s capacity and confidence to use information and to understand their own information needs and how they use information

Next steps:

o Identifying groups with whom to explore this approach (e.g legislators, community intermediaries)
o Developing standards and values around information literacy

Andrew McDevitt, IDS

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