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Making the Policy-Research Connection for Development: Using Research-Based Evidence to Improve Policy, Programs and Practice (Ottawa)

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59


John Young, ODI

Louise Shaxson, Defra

This workshop on the policy-research nexus for Canadian International Development Agency policy analysts was attended by over 40 researchers and policy advisers from CIDA, the International Development Research Centre, Environment Canada and The North-South Institute. The workshop was designed to provide some underpinning theory, and practical tools on how to use research more effectively for policy and practice. The programme included an overview of the latest research on the research-policy interface, introduction to some analytical and practical tools, and opportunities for participants to apply them to their own work.

Participants chose to look at four high-level current policy issues: Assisting African countries to adapt to climate change; Pro-poor private sector development; Mainstreaming gender into governance programming; and Integrating development into 3D policy on peace and security. Applying the RAPID Context-Evidence-Links analytical framework to these issues highlighted a number of important contextual factors influencing how policy could be made more evidence-based.

Mainstreaming gender, which has been on the agenda for a long time and has still not been achieved, was found to be an extremely complex cross-cutting issue, with many policy actors. Political issues were found to be especially important for climate change policies (including a change in government policy) and private sector development (noting that the President of CIDA is a strong supporter). For some, eg climate change, there is already much evidence, but it has not been examined wholistically. For private sector development, on the other hand, there is an absolute shortage of evidence about the informal sector, a large area for workers in the developing world. Many new actors are emerging, for example diaspora groups, and some important actors seem to be missing in current debates (for example, the voice of the poor in developing countries in discussions "3D" approach to peace and security). The recent change in government and changes in government procedures demand a great deal of adjustment, making it particularly challenging for CIDA to develop a systematic approach to more evidence-based policy just now. At the same time, there are supporters of a strengthened approach at the most senior levels.

A presentation by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation provided a living example of promoting more evidence-informed policy and practice in Canada. The foundation works with researchers, policy makers, and health service professionals, using a range of innovative approaches including: research competitions (jointly presented by researchers and policy makers); programmes to teach researchers how to write for non-academic audiences; and an executive training programme for health service managers to make them more intelligent users of research.

Participants practised using some more sophisticated tools to develop lines of argument for policy change in each of the four policy areas identified at the start of the workshop, and to map specific evidence needs in each of these areas. This process worked better for very specific policy objectives, less well for very broad objectives; a lesson that can be applied to future steps at the Agency.

Based on the feedback at the end of the course and the workshop evaluation, there is much interest in CIDA (and the other agencies) to explore a more systematic approach to applying experience and research to policies and programmes. A number of small-scale initiatives to build evidence-based policy are already underway, and new activities suggested included: establishing an internal community of practice to look at these issues in CIDA; capitalising on internal success stories; initiating pilot projects (applying some of these approaches to new policy issues); learning more from other organisations' experience as well as better harnessing CIDA's own experience, and more specific training on a wider range of tools.


There is an increasing emphasis on evidence-based policy making and implementation in developed and developing countries around the world. This workshop on the policy-research nexus for Canadian International Development Agency policy analysts will provide some underpinning theory and practical guidance on how to use research more effectively for policy and practice specifically:

  • The latest research on the research-policy interface:
  • Some analytical tools
  • An overview, and some specific examples of evidence-based policymaking in the UK
  • An example of evidence-based policy processes in Canada from the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation
  • Practical exercises exploring research priorities for current policy issues within CIDA
  • Some practical tools

Evidence-based policy is a key principle of the New Labour Government in the UK, which has established systems to improve the use of research-based and other forms of evidence at all levels of government, including within the Department for International Development. ODI's Research and Policy in Development Programme (RAPID) has been working on the research-policy nexus in development policy processes in the UK and developing countries for a number of years, has developed a conceptual framework and practical tools and has run a number of training courses for researchers and policy makers in developing countries and the UK. Within the UK, ODI is working with The Research Unit for Research Utilisation at St Andrews University and the Centre for Economic Policy Research on a series of workshops on these issues bringing together UK and International experience. ODI has also been following closely the development of The Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs in the UK's Evidence & Innovation Strategy, a pioneering initiative to develop practical tools for improving evidence-based policy.

Workshop Facilitators

  • John Young: Director of the Partnerships and Communications Department in ODI. He also leads the RAPID Programme and manages the Civil Society Partnership Programme. He has over 20 years experience in Africa, Asia and the UK, working on livestock services, government service reform, sustainable livelihoods, community development, participatory approaches, communications and information, research-policy links, institutional development and capacity-building.
  • Louise Shaxson: An independent consultant specialising in science policy and strategy, and evidence-based policy making. Louise has 15 years experience in Latin America, Africa and the UK, initially as an economist on pest management programmes, but subsequently focusing on managing interdisciplinary research for DFID. For the past three years she has led Defra's project on evidence-based policy making, and regularly lectures on the subject to senior policy makers and analysts.
Ottawa, Canada