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Research-Policy Symposium

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


Dr Syeda Tanveer Kausar Naim, Consultant, COMSTECH, Pakistan

Duncan Green, Head of Research, Oxfam UK

Nicolas Ducote, Director of Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth, Argentina

Buhle Mbambo-Thata, University of South Africa Library Services

Dylan Winder, Department for International Development, UK

Dra. Concepción Díaz Mayans, Cuban Ministry of Higher Education

Bola Fajemirokun, Development Initiatives Network, Nigeria

Rashed Titumir,  Unnayan Onneshan-Centre for Development Alternatives, Bangladesh


John Young, ODI

The first day included a series of overview presentations of the research-policy interface:

  • Dr Syeda Tanveer Kausar Naim - a consultant with COMSTECH, Pakistan, talked about the work she was involved with in reforming Pakistani higher education;
  • Duncan Green - Head of Research, Oxfam UK, presented his experience of using research to influence policy at Oxfam;
  • Nicolas Ducote - Director of Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth, Argentina (CIPPEC), described the key factors in play when looking to promote evidence based policy processes;
  • Buhle Mbambo-Thata - University of South Africa Library Services, spoke on evidence-based information practice (EBIP) in developing countries;
  • Dylan Winder - DFID, UK, talked about the extent to which DFID's policy is evidence based.

…case studies about how people have used evidence to inform specific policy issues:

  • Dra. Concepción Díaz Mayans - Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, spoke on the influence of research on measuring research and innovation in the Cuban Universities;
  • Bola Fajemirokun - Development Initiatives Network, Nigeria, spoke on gender mainstreaming and realising women's rights;
  • Rashed Titumir - Unnayan Onneshan-Centre for Development Alternatives, Bangladesh, presented research surrounding trade negotiations and livelihoods;
    expertly facilitated by Tony Dogbe from Participatory Development Associates in Ghana.

…an 'open mic' session where participants shared the lessons learned from their work, and discussed the emerging themes surrounding these issues.

…all pulled together at the end of the day by Andrew Barnett the Director for The Policy Practice, in Brighton, Brighton.

The second day provided an opportunity for participants to take part in three different workshops to learn about some of the tools for (i) understanding political context, (ii) research tools to generate influential evidence, and (iii) methods to ensure that local content reaches policy makers.

There was a feeling that this symposium contributed to participants' understanding by providing new perspectives on various issues with which they work everyday.

The main lessons shared in the symposium were:

  • A large amount can be achieved when your organisation is backed by influential political actors. To achieve this backing it is important to work to build trust, be aware of informal relationships and channels of influence among powerful figures, and to understand the main pressures which move them (e.g. globalisation).
  • It can often be useful to 'talk the language' of the policy makers and governments, and adapt your message to highlight those factors which are most likely to move them. However, this can sometimes be not desirable or even not possible as it may dilute or lose the force of your message.
  • CSOs must work hard to retain their independence in the face of seeking funding for their research: to do this, it may be necessary to bargain with funding agencies based on the fact that they need you to carry out the study, and be prepared to turn work down if it would not be possible to carry out a fair and unbiased job. Another way of enhancing independence is to look to diversify funding sources and other ways of bringing funds in (e.g. consultancy, training).
  • In contexts without freedom of information laws, it is important to form relationships and build trust. You need to patiently explain your purposes in order to get the required information.
  • Building up a reputation for solid research puts your organisation in a strong position, making it more likely that your message be taken seriously.
  • The timing of presenting evidence is extremely important. CSOs must make strategic use of policy making entry points, and other opportunities for enhanced influence.
  • Since politicians and journalists' timetables often mean there isn't time to prepare research after you have been invited for a meeting or an interview, it can be useful to have ready a stock of knowledge on important topics to 'take off the shelf' for these opportunities.
  • To fit your work around influential groups' timetables you may need to be prepared to target your activities to their way of working, for example carrying out training for the media at the weekend, or holding meetings with politicians late in the evenings.
  • For enhanced media impact it is important that academics/researchers have a unified voice over an issue.
  • When packaging research for the media it is useful to use narrative research and 'killer facts'.
  • In all cases it is important to consult with communities, to harness their understanding and knowledge of their own situation and use your research to amplify their needs and concerns.


The development context is changing fast. As a result of the Africa Commission, UK Presidency of the G8, Make Poverty History Campaign and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness inter alia, development agencies and other funders have promised a substantial increase in aid, greater harmonisation and more budget support, and a renewed emphasis on the importance of science and technology in the development process. While continuing to deliver vital services, Civil Society Organisations are increasingly involved in government policy formulation and implementation, the media is becoming a more powerful voice in an increasingly democratic world, and private investment is the main driver of change in all but the poorest countries.

In this context, the effective communication of basic and applied natural and social science research and its transformation into knowledge and practice, by researchers, policy makers, bureaucrats and information professionals will be key to the achievement and progress beyond the Millennium Development Goals.

Similar processes have been the focus of attention in developed countries for the last two decades, with an explosion of public information on science and technology, and an emphasis on evidence-based policy. Many tools and approaches have been developed in the UK and elsewhere which may also be useful in developing countries.

Over the last decade, INASP has become an important player in improving access to scientific knowledge for southern researchers, policy makers and practitioners, and facilitating their contribution to local, national and global knowledge, and has developed a network of information professionals across 40 countries to support this. Over the last 5 years, ODI's RAPID programme has undertaken research and has developed some simple tools to help researchers, policy makers, practitioners and intermediaries ensure that knowledge gets into policy and practice, and is building a network of organisations in the north and south to help knowledge producers to engage with policy processes. There is an active community of academics, consultants and NGOs based in Oxford who are working on these issues with useful lessons to share, and keen to learn more about how their research or programmes could contribute more effectively to development.

This Symposium brought together 60 network members from INASP and ODI, together with northern and southern partners from Oxfam, INTRAC, IIED, IDS and others, and the development and evidence-based policy community in Oxford, to share experiences on how information professionals, scientists and policy makers can work together to promote evidence-informed policy, and learn new skills.

The Symposium consisted of two parts. The first 'conference-style' day included key-note presentations on evidence-based policy in the South and North, overview presentations exploring the role of researchers, information professionals and donors, and a selection of participant case studies. This was followed by breakout groups enabling participants to share current state-of-the-art knowledge and practical experience. The second 'workshop-style' day offered participants the choice from a number of more practical workshops introducing a range of potentially useful tools and approaches, with opportunities for participants to try some of them out.