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The Research / Practice Interface for 2005: Actions for the Year and Beyond

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

Keynote speaker:

Gordon Conway - Chief Scientific Adviser, DFID


John Young - Manager, RAPID Programme, ODI

Ed Hughes - RAE Manager, Higher Education Funding Council

Often it seems that researchers, practitioners and policymakers live in parallel universes. Researchers cannot understand why there is resistance to policy change despite clear and convincing evidence. Policymakers bemoan the inability of many researchers to make their findings accessible and digestible in time for policy decisions. Practitioners often just get on with things. Yet better utilisation of research and evidence in development policy and practice can help save lives, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life. For example, the results of household disease surveys in rural Tanzania informed a process of health service reforms which contributed to over 40% reductions in infant mortality between 2000 and 2003 in two districts.

ODI has been looking at research-policy linkages in international development for over five years. We have completed extensive literature reviews – drawing on various streams of literature such as economics, political science, management, anthropology, social psychology, marketing communication, and media studies. We have also collected and analysed a large number of case studies on the topic of Bridging Research and Policy, and more recently have been involved in advisory work and workshops, seminars and training courses for researchers and policy makers in the UK and developing countries. Based on this work, ODI has developed an analytical and practical framework to help researchers and practitioners understand the context they are working in and develop strategies to maximise the impact of their work on policy and practice.

This workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to learn about and try out some of these approaches on their own work and on teaching case studies.


  • Introductions
  • The RAPID Analytical Framework
  • Group Work - Using the Framework (A Teaching Case Study)
  • Feedback & Discussion
  • The Policy Entrepreneur Questionnaire


  • The practical framework
  • Feedback of Policy Entrepreneur Questionnaire
  • An introduction to some practical tools
  • Group Work – Trying out the Tools
  • Feedback & Discussion
  • Sources of further information


The international development sector abounds with case studies, conference papers, journals and evaluations all contributing to a rich literature of reflection on development practice. Much of this literature is academic, some emanates from applied researchers and think tanks, some from the policy departments of international NGOs. While many of the themes are widely known and have contributed to major shifts in development work, in other cases insights from twenty or thirty years ago remain valid but have not yet been put into practice. Practitioners engaged in development interventions –NGO managers and private consultants – continue to make mistakes that were documented and analysed years ago.

Communication at the practice-research boundary can be difficult, and institutional barriers are high. Practitioners are embedded in institutional contexts that press them to solve practical problems, while many research disciplines are perceived to place value on distance from, rather than closeness to, practice.

Additionally, the cultural differences and modus operandi of organisations at the interface are generally dictated by their sources of funding. It is therefore important to include the research funding and donor communities in any discussions of this nature to identify ways in which they can foster a greater culture of engagement, through the orientation of their funding.

This conference is conceived as one forum for exploring the reality of the links between research and practice. It aims not only to identify problems at the interface between the two, but also to propose action points for the next six months to a year, which will be followed up by BOND and the DSA. We hope that at the end of the day participants will leave with an overarching, tangible strategy for ensuring better exchange between research and practice, and that we will have created a few more “activist scholars” and reflective practitioners.

It is important that the conference does not duplicate previous engagements. The DSA held a conference in November 2004 called “Bridging Research and Policy” that focused on the links between researchers and policy makers, and particularly on the strategies for negotiating the political obstacles to effecting evidence-based public policies. This conference aims to build on the November conference, but rather than taking the political and institutional limits of policy makers as its starting point, it focuses on the effectiveness and impact of development work on the ground, as carried out by non-governmental and private sector actors.

It will be an opportunity both to develop ideas and action points as well as to take part in strategic networking. We hope to see people from the NGO, private sector and academic communities mixing with each other. Such engagements between civil society, the private sector and the research community offer opportunities to bring very diverse resources to bear on difficult problems.

ODI participated in the conference through the delivery of a keynote address, and a workshop session on Turning Insight into Impact.

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