Five actions to promote research in policy and practice

May 26, 2021

The use of research is important for evidence-based policymaking and development practice. While the demand for research have grown, constraints persist to make the bridging to practice take place.

State Secretary Janine Alm Ericson and Deputy Managing Director of EBA, Mats Hårsmar. Photo: SweDev

Development research has been conducted in Sweden for more than 50 years and the field has expanded into a variety of subject areas, however, collaboration and coordination between institutions and researchers have not followed and the field remains disperse. Many researchers therefore lack the connection to development research environments, opportunities, and funding. It has also made it more difficult to create meaningful interaction with practitioners, and to create a bridge from research to practice and policy. Despite studies indicating that there is great interest among both researchers and practitioners for increased collaboration.

Why are some research findings picked up in policy, while others are overlooked? And how can research be better promoted in policy and practice? To discuss this EBA and SweDev invited development researchers and practitioners to an open dialogue with representatives from academia, civil society, governmental organisations and the private sector to discuss how they can contribute with their experiences to increase researcher and practitioner collaboration.

Here are five actions that can help promote the use of research in development policy.

1. Find common ground

Policy processes are not linear nor easy to understand. They are instead often a mishmash of stakeholders, phases and actions. Researchers, practitioners and policymakers alike raise the concern of a dispersed development community with different perceptions of problems and various approaches to solve them. Therefore, finding common ground for shared understanding becomes a key step towards the use of research in policy and practice. Trans-disciplinary research where researchers and relevant stakeholders collaborate to solve a common issue is a strategy to address this action point. Other strategies involve formulating shared routines, developing joint infrastructure and understanding underlying incentives of both research and practice. 

2. Integrate research in development programming

An integrated approach to research in development practice and policy can be valuable for both parties. Research and practice collaboration often impact research quality positively. For practitioners and policymakers, researchers’ findings are critical for building stronger arguments and approaches. Timing and incentives are crucial factors for integrating research in development programming. Current demands and time frames in policy processes need to align with the research process – and vice versa. Integrating research in development programmes can also involve researchers collaborating with implementing development organisations in the local context. In this way, development projects have the possibility to use preliminary results as they emerge, strengthening both the impact and relevance of research.

3. Establish skilful and diverse teams

Impactful research involves much more than conducting high-quality research. In this sense, a researcher is often expected to be much more than a researcher. However, no one needs to have all the necessary skills themselves. Frankly, no one should need all skills to make an impact. Rather, it is essential to be part of a team where researchers, practitioners, and policymakers complement each other’s skills for a win-win situation. Achieving relevant impact also entails diverse and inclusive teams with local anchoring. 

4. Develop strategies for relevant communication

Professional and impactful communication is essential but nonetheless remains a challenge to collaboration and bridging science to policy. Poor communication may weaken the use of research within policy and also hinder successful impact. If only parts of the research findings are picked up and communicated by other stakeholders, there is a risk that the findings are interpreted unfairly or biased. Previous experience thus suggests that research-practice collaboration can be useful when relationships are mutual and open. 

5. Identify problems ahead 

Traditional research takes long time to produce, from the initial idea to the published findings. Meanwhile, the opportunity to influence policy may pass. Planning for relevant research is therefore important. However, the relevance of research should not be assessed only against the policy agendas today. Instead, research being done now may be valuable in the future. In line with this, researchers should communicate their research findings even though outcomes are not yet identified. In addition, researchers can proactively initiate new research areas and set the policy agenda to avoid becoming dependent on other stakeholders steering the trends.

Watch the recording of the seminar below.

Reporting by Alice Castensson, Intern, SweDev