One way of trying to make an impact with one’s research is to use it to provide evidence and information to one of Parliament’s Select Committees. Victoria Honour offers some insight into how these committees and their inquiries work, and how academics can engage with them; including practical advice on how to structure and present written evidence, and information on academic training and further resources.
Never mind the policymakers, a more nuanced understanding of the diverse roles in change processes is required
Funding bids, academic papers, and policy briefs are full of references to the “policymaker” as the primary audience for research and evidence. But this term means little when you consider the diversity of policy actors, practitioners, donors, and activists. James Georgalakis argues researchers must acquire a more nuanced understanding of their audiences’ diverse roles in change processes. Rather than becoming preoccupied with policymakers, focus should shift to building the capacity of intermediaries whose role it is to identify, assess, and repackage evidence for a range of audiences.
Shorter timeframes, co-designed, with “first-cut” insights: how university policy research can become more responsive to the needs of policymakers
How might universities develop a research agenda that is responsive to the needs of policymakers? Tamas Wells and Emma Blomkamp identified three ways in which policy research might become more “user-centred”: more variety in the timeframes of research projects, with some short as well as longer-term projects; closer engagement with policymakers in research design; and sharing of researchers’ “first-cut” insights that might offer a clear message and direction to policymakers.
One-way, mutually constitutive, or two autonomous spheres: what is the relationship between research and policy?
Academics are increasingly exhorted to ensure their research has policy “impact”. But is this ambition predicated on an overly simplistic understanding of the policy process? Christina Boswell and Katherine Smith set out four different approaches to theorising the relationship between knowledge and policy and consider what each of these suggests about approaches to incentivising and measuring research impact.
A lack of access and poor communication are often cited as reasons why academic research is not widely used by policymakers. But what about the challenges for researchers engaging with decision-makers such as parliaments? Lindsay Walker, Lindsey Pike, Marsha Wood and Hannah Durrant have surveyed more than 400 research professionals and identified some clear barriers, with heavy workloads and a lack of transparency around how research will be used among the most prominent.
As the value of research with impact increases, so too does the importance of first gaining access to policymakers and other persons of influence. One shortcut to doing this is through increased media coverage. Leigh Marshall explains how academics can give their research the best possible chance of being seen and read by policymakers; including by developing close relationships with university communications teams, being ready to capitalise when a story relevant to your research breaks, and ensuring you have a message that decision-makers can engage with.
It’s not enough for research to be useful to policy actors, we must try to actually influence change
There is no doubt that good communications and framing research and evidence for your audience is important to influencing policy and having research impact. But shouldn’t we be aiming higher than producing and packaging research that simply meets the demands of policy actors? Surely what we actually want to do is influence change, not reinforce social and political norms? James Georgalakis argues that research and researchers need to challenge dominant paradigms and expose inconvenient truths.
Boundary-spanning is one approach to creating a more comprehensive and inclusive knowledge exchange process between science and decision-makers. Chris Cvitanovic explains how the concept has come to be defined and is now being taken up by those tackling highly complex or “wicked” problems. Boundary-spanners can support a more effective relationship between science and policy in many ways, including by increasing the efficiency with which scientific information is considered in decision-making processes and by helping scientists to capitalise quickly on policy windows.
There is an accepted need to bridge the gap between academic research and public policy. Knowledge brokers, individuals or organisations sympathetic to both research and policymaking cultures and able to mediate between the two, represent one way of doing so. Sarah Quarmby takes a look inside a knowledge broker organisation, the Wales Centre for Public Policy, to see how its day-to-day workings tally with the body of knowledge about evidence use in policymaking.
People believe narratives are important and that crafting, manipulating, or influencing them likely shapes public policy. But how does one actually do this? To Michael D. Jones and Deserai Crow, it starts by understanding the component parts of a narrative and configuring those in a way that maximises your chances of success. Setting the stage, establishing the plot, and casting the characters are all vital steps towards stating the moral of the story: the solution to the policy problem.
One of the principal ways in which research can be said to have had an impact on society is when it is judged to have shaped public policy. Storytelling is increasingly presented as an effective way of doing this, with researchers encouraged to construct narratives that point towards a clear “moral”, something to be done. Thomas Basbøll argues that researchers should resist this temptation to craft an arresting story, to simplify matters and present policymakers with an obvious solution.
Achieving tangible impacts on policy and practice is not easy. But it’s made even harder by starting with a pessimistic outlook. Much of the academic discourse around the interface of science, policy, and practice has become dominated by negative language such as the science-policy “gap”, or “challenges” and “barriers” that must be overcome. Chris Cvitanovic makes the case for a shift in the academic study of science-policy-practice interfaces towards the documentation and discussion of “bright spots” – those instances where science has successfully influenced policy and/or practice.
Despite often having an explicit policy focus, many academic conferences fail to produce policy briefs or even promote papers that are accessible to those working in policy. Sarah Foxen highlights the rich potential of academic conferences as fantastic sites at which to stimulate and facilitate policy impact, collecting all the academic and policy experts on a topic together in the same place at the same time and offering opportunities for skills development.
A blueprint for building university-based boundary organisations that achieve impacts on policy and practice
The uptake and integration of scientific research into decision-making processes remains a significant challenge. Many research organisations have begun to experiment with novel institutional structures aimed at enhancing the impact of research on policy and practice. Taking Stockholm University’s Baltic Eye Project as a case study, Marie Löf and Chris Cvitanovic present a blueprint for building university-based boundary organisations, setting out the seven key themes to consider.
While optimism can inspire efforts to connect the spheres of science, policy, and practice, it does little to remove the real boundaries between them. Systematic investigation of “bright spots” – or success stories – would likely yield some interesting learning points but, as David Christian Rose suggests, it may be unwise to cherry-pick evidence of what works by only analysing success stories. Instead, focus should shift to overcoming institutional barriers that are preventing progress, such as a lack of incentives and training.
The perpetual tango: what exactly is “evidence-informed policymaking” premised on and working towards?
Given the field of evidence-informed policymaking has existed for some time, experts’ confusion, knowledge gaps, and inconsistencies around the fundamentals is bewildering. Jacqueline Sohn considers how evidence-informed policymaking works in practice, likening the swift and abrupt movements that eventually lead to policies being developed to a perpetual tango, and reveals how research producers looking to successfully influence the process might use politics to their advantage.
How games can help us to understand how people make decisions and support policy development that takes better account of field realities
Games are increasingly used in research and development projects, bringing elements of play into real life to deliver insights into decision-making processes. Claude Garcia describes how real life can be taken into the world of games, facilitating players to take better decisions by themselves, and how doing so can support policy development, helping to draft policy that takes better account of field realities