A strategic approach to policy engagement for research organisations
This is the presentation delivered as part of a two day workshop held in Nepal in 2014 aimed at communications professionals or the point person for communication within fifteen South Asian think tanks. Participants explored how they could adopt a systematic approach to planning research or knowledge outputs for policy engagement and influence. They explored the types of influencing outcomes they are focused on and their individual and institutional capacities to deliver strategic communication and policy engagement work. By the end of the workshop it was hoped that each participating institution would have identified a clear set of steps towards the development of a strategic approach to policy engagement and research communication at an institutional or programmatic level.
This workshop formed part of the IDRC funded Think Tanks Initiative South Asia programme. http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Programs/Social_and_Economic_Policy/Think_Tank_Initiative/Pages/About.aspx
This example (real) starts vague and very internally focused. It is then improved by becoming more specific and focused on an external change. It is still broad and not time bound.
Starts by being very focused on a secondary goal around a change in the positioning of the TT rather than an external change in the policy making process or knowledge landscape. This begs the questions why does the TT want to enhance its influence on this debate? In the improved version some effort is made to explain the impact on the policy discourse the TT hopes to contribute to and within what time frame.
Impact story sometimes referred to as an Impact Narrative and may form basis of a Theory of Change and is often used to develop a more detailed Pathways to Impact statement.
Ask participants why and write up their answers
A DFID definition. Not an activity it is a process.
Channel = communication pathway
Some comms activities are very resource intensive – for example general public awareness raising requires a lot of resources and impact can be hard to measure. What are your priorities – raising profile of institution/consortium versus targeted research uptake activities??
A very simplistic plan for a project based comms strategy
This suggested template could be adapted for thematic based goals or goals focused on different strategic areas. There has been no time during this workshop to cover how to set SMART objectives or design M+E frameworks. This template would need to be adapted to suit different institutional contexts and is meant as a basic example only.
A strategic approach to policy engagement for research organisations
Developing a strategic approach to Policy
Engagement and Communication
James Georgalakis, IDS Head of Communications
Hannah Corbett, IDS Public Affairs Officer
How the workshop will be run
• We want you to learn
• Not too much lecturing from facilitators
• Lots of thinking discussing and working in
• Success depends on participation
• Mood Monitor
Follow Twitter: @PECSAP @IDS_UK
Working groups for PEC planning
Participants divided into TT teams for some
Workshop divided into two working groups for
Each TT supported by their facilitator
Groups record their work on flip charts and
- Keep them safe
- Remember label each sheet with Session and group
As a courtesy to your colleagues, please:
Be quiet and listen
when others are
each other and their
speak loud and
Factors affecting research uptake
credibility of evidence
Self perceived roles of research generators
Only interested in doing research
Respond to specific questions from policy makers
but do not express preferences
Aim to influence policy in a particular direction
Clarify and potentially expand the policy options
available to decision makers
Reasons to engage
Primary Goals (substantive):
To improve policy making processes
To influence policy in a particular direction
To improve quality of policy discourse
To empower marginalised stakeholders
Secondary Goals (instrumental):
To grow research communication capacity
To enhance institutional position and profile
To build partnerships and attract funding
What is a PEC goal?
A brief vision statement that describes a change you hope
to contribute to through your policy engagement work. This
A change in a specific area of policy.
A change in how evidence informs a particular policy.
A change in how particular policy actors engage with
A change in the prominence of a specific research theme on
the public policy agenda.
A change in the nature of the policy discourse.
PEC goal ingredients
1. What aspirational change do you seek?
External - not just change within your TT
2. Who must change?
Be as specific as you can
3. How must they change?
Behaviour, attitudes, policy
4. What is the time frame?
By date xx
What will success look like?
A great PEC goal is expressed as an outcome
not an activity or plan. Write it as if the change
The long term outcome you seek is likely to be
something you hope to contribute to rather
than achieve entirely on your own.
Making your PEC goal more strategic
Our PEC goal is…
“To understand a changing India and to engage in and
inform public debate.”
“Processes and structures to understand the
governance of Indian cities will be better informed by
a more transparent, rigorous and diverse evidence
Our PEC goal is…
“By 2014, XX will be positioned a key influencer and
source of rigorous evidence within the UK, EU and UN
policy spheres in relation to the post 2015 decision
“By 2015, debates within the UK, EU and UN policy
spheres around the post 2015 decision making
process will be better informed by the realities and
experiences of the poorest and most marginalised.”
Our PEC goal is…
“XX think tank will continue to serve needs of the country by
undertaking quality research and analysis, and disseminate the
same among broader sections of the society; consolidate its
position as a leading think tank in xxx country that will focus on
national economic and governance issues and build an institution
which is comparable to its peers in terms of capacity, competence
“By 2015, national macroeconomic policymaking processes
have improved and have become more pro-people.”
Introduction to the strategic planning
Key questions that your PEC strategy should answer:
Goals: What are the desirable outcomes from our PEC activity?
Context: How does our approach respond to the situation we are in?
Primary audiences and influencers: Who do we want to influence and
inform? What do we know about them?
Communications pathways: Who is best placed to communicate with
each of our audiences and what are the best ways to reach them?
Timescales: When will be the best times to communicate?
Resources: What do we need - what might we have?
Indicators: How will we measure progress/success?
Do you need cross-institutional PEC strategy?
Institutional PEC strategy
Programmatic research uptake
Allows TTs to be greater than
the sum of their parts.
Enables tailoring of research design to
needs of users.
Supports institutional level
Encourages ongoing stakeholder
Provides space to strategise
outside of the immediate needs of
Capacity building focused on both supply
and demand of research knowledge.
Provides longer term vision of
your TT’s positioning and
Enables more effective packaging and
dissemination of results.
Institutional PEC strategy
Programmatic research uptake
learning and collaboration.
Useful data and stories about uptake are
Maintains independence and
Improves understanding of policy
processes in specific contexts.
Attracts new partners and
Increases chances of high quality research
informing policy processes.
Enables engagement in new
Channels funding to research
Organisational and individual
Assessing PEC capacity
Personal capabilities to engage in policy processes and
Institutional commitment to PEC and ability to engage
Key external stakeholders’ knowledge skills and
attitudes needed to understand and/or use research
Information literacy (i.e. skills in finding and appraising
Internal knowledge management
Ability to communicate with non-specialists
Ability to communicate clear messages
Ability to exploit/utilise policy environment (policy
Ability to create and support networks
Ability to carry out, monitor and evaluate PEC work.
Theory of change that supports policy engagement is embedded
in institutional vision and mission.
Ability to deliver high quality research and knowledge.
Ability to ensure sustainability of policy engagement activities.
Ability to plan and manage PEC work.
Ability to respond to changing policy environment.
Ability to involve stakeholders in all stages of research.
Ability to understand research and skills in finding and appraising
Strength of incentives to consider and use evidence in policy
Ability to bring new ideas/evidence to bear on policy discourse
and decision making.
Weighing the risks and benefits of PEC
Depending on your approaches and the local context there may
be risks associated with PEC activities.
You need to determine:
What is the risk of carrying out policy engagement and
What is the potential benefit of PEC in terms of research
uptake, policy impact, changes to people’s lives?
Comparing risks of action or inaction
You also need to consider the risk of not growing your
capacity to engage in policy discourse and strategic
What is the risk to the likelihood of good quality research
informing policy and practice?
What is the risk to your reputation and profile?
Assessing risks: what sort of risks?
Identify possible risk areas
People, reputation, relationships
Decline in research quality
Misrepresentation of research findings
Lack of demand for evidence
Conflict with funders’ priorities
2. Assess the impact/likelihood of the risk
• How severe is the possible impact?
• How likely is it to happen?
Assessing risks: what is the level of risk?
3. Think of how to mitigate the risk
• What can you do to mitigate the risk?
• Can you take action to make it less likely?
• Can you make it less harmful?
4. Decide on your course of action
• What level of risk remains?
• Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Or CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!
Mapping the policy and knowledge landscapes
If you intend to build bridges between research and policy or actively
engage in policy influencing you must first understand the policy
making and knowledge environment.
Some key questions:
How is policy made in relation to your key areas?
What relevant policy processes are ongoing?
What are the workings of your basic political systems?
Hidden power – who really controls the agenda?
Invisible power – values, norms, social hierarchy?
What access do you have to key decision makers and
Whose knowledge counts?
What knowledge systems and networks exist?
When are the best opportunities to influence change?
Young, J (2004)
Value added in policy knowledge
Understanding of policy and knowledge landscape enables you to:
Identify and recognise engagement opportunities
Flag possible entry points in the policy process
Tailor research to user needs
Grow capacity of users to engage with and understand research
Guide selection of research communications tactics and frame
research for policy audiences.
Contextual analysis tools
Theory of change
Network Mapping Steps 1 to 5
Based loosely on the highly respected PIPA process
(PARTICIPATORY IMPACT PATHWAYS ANALYSIS) which was
developed for research organisations and pioneered by the
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
1. List stakeholders
2. Categorise them
3. Map against one another
4. Analysing policy role and attitude
5. Draft your impact story
The purpose of the Network Mapping exercise is to enable you to
draft your impact story:
A brief summary of your strategic approach to achieving the change
Your strategic approach should reflect what you learnt about
the policy and knowledge landscape from your mapping
Network Mapping – step 1
List key stakeholders including those expected to change in
some way (behaviour, policy, attitudes) and those that can
influence the issue. They may include:
Groups of individuals
Civil society organisations
Network Mapping – step 2
Categorise your stakeholders and consider what level of
access you have to them:
Type of stakeholder
Partners and funders
private sector, media
Network Mapping – step 3
Consider the relationships that your identified stakeholders have
to one another:
Do some influence others?
Are there groupings by network or policy sphere?
Are there any hidden linkages or influencing pathways?
Can you now think of any more actors - particularly those that
Network Mapping - step 4
Analyse each of your stakeholders using the following
A. What is their attitude towards the issue?
Supportive, neutral, negative
B. How influential are they in contributing to the change
Low, medium, high
Network Mapping - step 5
Based on the discussion you have had about the policy and
knowledge landscape and the network map you have
produced develop a brief description of your approach to
achieving the change you want.
Your impact story (max 200 words) should sit alongside
your PEC goal or vision.
PEC goal (vision) = The change we want
PEC impact story (mission) = Our strategy for achieving it
Your impact story should briefly summarise your strategic
approach to achieving the change you want. It may contain the
How will your policy engagement and communication activities
influence key stakeholders’ behaviours and attitudes?
Who are you going to prioritise and why?
What are you going to have to do? (build internal capacity,
establish networks, engage media etc)
When will it happen – is there a broad timeline?
Your approach should reflect what you learnt about the policy
and knowledge landscape from your mapping exercise.
Analysing audiences and
What is research communications?
Research communication is defined as the ability to interpret
or translate complex research findings into language, format
and context that non experts can understand.
It is not just about dissemination of research results and is
unlike marketing that simply promotes a product. Research
communications must address the needs of those who will
use the research or benefit from it.
Communication not as Dissemination…
but as engagement
Effective research communications
Distillation of research findings
Use of plain language
Making information accessible
Tailored communications for different audiences
Identification of the needs of the target groups
Consider technical barriers, language and cultural
Communications throughout research project that
1. Who is best placed to communicate with each of your target
audiences? Who has the skills, knowledge, contacts,
2. How do your audiences access information and what/who
3. What kind of tactics will help you engage with specific
4. What kind of communication outputs/activities will be most
effective in reaching your audiences? Tweets, blog, policy
brief, workshop, report, media, journal?
When will be the best time to influence policy or
What are the planned events and processes where you
could present your research?
Particular opportunities to collaborate with others?
Are you tracking policy environment to support
Have you already mapped out the activities you plan to
What are the major resource implications – time, materials,
Will resource limitations or capability issues mean making
any hard choices – how will you prioritise between
desirable communications activities?
•Press release to
national media and
Project comms officer
Policy makers, Civil
• Launch Facebook
page + Twitter
Researchers time and
support from comms
High level roundtable
Grow credibility of
Policy makers, civil
Next steps in developing
your PEC strategy
What we covered in this workshop
5. Devise PEC
1. Setting PEC
Template for institutional policy engagement strategy
Strategy preamble - providing context – why is this strategy needed and how does it relate to other strategic planning
frameworks such as a wider institutional strategy. Who owns it? How was it developed, who was consulted and who is it
Version – date last reviewed
Timeframe – all strategic planning documents need to be time bound. 18 months/2 years/5 years?
Strategic goals – Broad outcomes that this strategy and the work associated with it is designed to bring about (or contribute
to). A series of brief vision statements making it clear what success will look like in year x.
Situational analysis – this may be organised by theme, policy area, or relate to specific goals. It will briefly set out the context
in which you are engaging in policy and delivering research communication. It should reflect both elements of internal and
Theory of change – You strategic approach/impact narrative
State any links to how
this relates to broader
achieving your goal)
These should be
SMART and identify