Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Enhancing the impact of research

Addis Ababa, 21 October: ODI’s John Young today briefed participants in a workshop on improved communication in agricultural research in Africa on ways to enhance the impact of research to policy processes. 

He drew on the substantial work (and products) of the ODI Research and Policy in Development programme (, explaining some of the features of development policy processes that make research communication so challenging … also so vital.

First, policy processes are complex, nonlinear, involve many actors, and are difficult to predict. Second, research-based evidence usually plays a weak role in policymaking. This is because many policy issues are not easily ‘researchable’; policymakers themselves and their environment (pressed for time, large briefs to cover, scientific ignorance) are “practically incapable of using research-based evidence.” Third, however, there are cased where research-based evidence has made a difference, so it is not wasted effort to invest in this area.

Thinking about the question: How do I enhance the impact of my research on policy, he suggested that research organizations need people with different capacities and skills beyond being able to carry out research:
  • ‘Storytellers’, with a capacity to tell ‘sticky’ stories;
  • ‘Networkers’, to link with other organizations;
  • ‘Engineers’, working behind the scenes, getting evidence ready;
  • ‘Political fixers’, with contacts and influence.
He also listed ways that a research organization can improve the impact of its research on policymaking.

ODI research shows that doing this properly needs:
  • that you “really really” want to do it, because you will need to change yourself;
  • a greater focus on policy than on research;
  • adjusted organizational incentives to reward other types of policy-relevant outputs than traditional peer-reviewed articles;
  • different systems of more open and flexible knowledge sharing;
  • much more on spent on communication;
  • engaging with different actors, beyond research;
  • producing different types of products;
  • a readiness to seize unexpected policy opportunities, being able to move very fast, and being able to capitalize on past research.
See John's powerpoint presentations: Working with complexity: Six steps to enhance researchStrategies to enhance research impact: Six lessons.

The Addis Ababa workshop is organized by the Global Development Network (GDN) in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the World Bank Institute (WBI), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with support from the Information and Communications Technology – Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Photos from the workshop
Video interviews at the workshop
more stories on this blog / on iaald blog / on ICT-KM blog
Euforic news on communication and knowledge-sharing
R4D news on research communication