Engagement with policymakers can lead to important developments in policy and practice, but it is important to remember that not all policy-relevant research will result in an observable policy impact. This is because policy making is not a straightforward or linear process – in any country.
Policy-makers are driven by many influences often shaped by the environment they are working in. They may choose not to adopt a recommendation, and even if they do it is often very hard to say it was because of the direct intervention of your research! However, even where it is not possible to prove a direct policy impact, academics engaged in policy-relevant research can plan to engage with policy-makers, practitioners or the public in a systematic and active way (this article by James Lloyd on the LSE Impact Blog describes elements of the process, what works well and what challenges will provide themselves resilient).
Making an initial approach to policy-makers at the earliest possible opportunity can help to secure a more prolonged, varied and, all other things being equal, effective engagement. More important still is ensuring that any engagement you have in the policy field is appropriately tailored to your audience (as discussed in Section 4D).
Even where it is not possible to prove a direct policy impact, what academics engaged in policy-relevant research can do is to demonstrate engagement with policy-makers, practitioners or the public that lays the groundwork for future policy impact. What is useful is to plan and chart how you aim to influence policy.
Platforms for engagement
In Ghana and Uganda, the DRUSSA programme supported a more formalised programme of engagement between policymaking and university communities. With the leadership of CSIR-STEPRI in Ghana and the UNCST in Uganda, this programme involved three principal strands of work:
Embedding academic fellows within select ministries of government for periods of six months to one year, assisting policymakers and civil servants to interpret and apply research evidence (and learning more about policymaking processes and institutional cultures)
Establishing series of academic-policy Symposia which would convene senior policymakers, representatives of the Minister and leading academic staff at national universities to explore policy priorities, research applications and opportunities for collaboration
Training civil servants in the evaluation and application of university research to support evidence informed policymaking.
The role of the research management office in helping to establish forums such as academic-policy symposia in particular is critical, yet relatively low-cost and potentially very high impact. In the DRUSSA model, four ministries in Ghana and three in Uganda each participated in four academic-policy symposia over two years, each one convening senior civil servants and academic leaders to address policy-relevant research themes. From an exploration of new scientific advances in agricultural value addition, to a revision of the national energy policy in Uganda; from exploring currency volatility and its impact on trade and poverty to enhancing food security in Ghana – the range of issues discussed in these symposia was diverse.
Across this diverse range of events, there were some common themes in how they were established and facilitated. Each Symposium was designed:
to provide a space for policy-makers and in-country academics to discuss research relevant to policy;
to stimulate greater awareness of the potential of research evidence, particularly that generated domestically, to inform policy;
to engage senior officials in discussion around the challenges encountered in deploying research evidence, and;
to encourage senior officials to demand greater use of research evidence by their staff.
It should be emphasised that, at least in the DRUSSA experience, the reception and engagement from policymakers was sustained, high-level and fruitful. For example, the Hon. Mutala Mohammed, Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Ghana, welcomed the symposia by emphasising that “effective planning… requires regular stakeholder consultations such as the current policy symposia. The clarion call for evidence based research for effective policy formation and implementation has come at the right time. Dialogue between academia and policy makers is a win-win effort.” Hon. Fifi Kwetey, Minister for Food and Agriculture, Ghana, was similarly positive, noting that “informed policy will contribute to enhanced food security, increased farmer incomes and engagement in profitable agriculture.”
You can learn more about each of the DRUSSA Symposia (as well as examples of training delivered to civil servants in Uganda) on the DRUSSA Learning Resource (search for “Policy Symposia”, where reports and presentations are freely accessible. This is a model we would encourage research managers anywhere to learn from, adapt and apply.
Things to think about
Aside from achieving direct impact on a particular policy, what are the benefits to the university (and the costs in time and resource) to set up regular communications and channels of engagement between policymakers and researchers?
What are some of your university’s most outstanding examples of bringing research into use, and how can you use these stories to champion further engagement with policymakers?
If you were looking to establish Academic-Policy Symposia between your university and two to three ministries of government, which ministries would you prioritise, and why?
Things to do
Upon discussion with Deans and Heads of Department as necessary, identify some contacts within ministries or departments of government in your country, local region or city who may be receptive to discussing a formal platform for engagement between themselves and your university. This platform could comprise the establishment of academic-policy symposia, the embedding of some academics as fellows to be seconded part-time within the ministries themselves, or even some early conversations on policy priority areas.
This presentation outlines the research evidence into policy course designed and delivered by ISSER for DRUSSA in 2015, explaining the policy process and context, who populates the policy universe and how to engage with them, and what qualifies as research evidence for the purposes of influencing policy
In this presentation, Dr Henry Telli (International Growth Centre) explains the principles and practice of successful evidence-informed decision-making, the research and political contexts that partners can consider in delivering and translating research evidence, as well as providing a case study for discussion
This module in evidence-based policy-making covers good practice in writing policy briefs, identifying key sector audiences for research evidence, outlining key messages to influence policy and how to establish several courses of policy action based on research findings.
This report from the fifth and final DRUSSA Policy Symposium at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Ghana) outlines the commitments, plans for action and opportunities for collaboration identified between higher education leaders, academics and policymakers looking for ways to incorporate research evidence into policymaking.
Ths report summarises discussions held at the DRUSSA Higher Education Symposium (Ghana) in 2015. The Symposium brought together twenty-five university Vice Chancellors, academics and policy makers involved in shaping both higher education policy, and those responsible for setting national research priorities and allocating public research funding to discuss Ghanaian higher education and the national development plan.
This report summarises discussions at the DRUSSA Higher Education Symposium (Uganda) held in 2015. The Symposium focused on higher education research uptake in policy and practice and featured paper presentations and discussions on the quality of education in Uganda and enhancing the use of research evidence in higher education policy. Forty-eight university Vice Chancellors, academics and policy makers involved in shaping higher education policy (including those from MESTS) were brought together, along with additional key stakeholders in higher education in Uganda.
National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)
Most funders will ask you to tell them how you have evaluated your public engagement work – and it can sometimes feel like an unwelcome add-on. However, used correctly, evaluation is a valuable tool that enables you to learn from your experiences and to assess the impact of your project. Evaluation is a process of collecting evidence and reflection that will help you understand the dynamics and effect of your work, and help you with your next public engagement project.
Kirchuffs Atengble, Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS)
Report on policy dialogues involving Planning Officers from host and adjourning Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies; libraries, research and academic institutions; and think tanks and other civil society organisations.