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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.

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A strategic approach to policy engagement for research organisations

  1. 1. Developing a strategic approach to Policy Engagement and Communication Lead facilitators: James Georgalakis, IDS Head of Communications Hannah Corbett, IDS Public Affairs Officer
  2. 2. How the workshop will be run • We want you to learn • Not too much lecturing from facilitators • Lots of thinking discussing and working in groups • Success depends on participation • Mood Monitor Follow Twitter: @PECSAP @IDS_UK Tweet: #PECNepal
  3. 3. Working groups for PEC planning     Participants divided into TT teams for some exercises Workshop divided into two working groups for some sessions Each TT supported by their facilitator Groups record their work on flip charts and worksheets throughout: - Keep them safe - Remember label each sheet with Session and group
  4. 4. Ground Rules As a courtesy to your colleagues, please: Be quiet and listen when others are speaking, respecting each other and their views Contribute fully, speak loud and clear
  5. 5. Session 1: Introduction to PEC concepts
  6. 6. Factors affecting research uptake Political context and power relationships Gaps between researchers and research users Effective research communication Research uptake and changes in people’s lives Research capacity Character and credibility of evidence
  7. 7. Self perceived roles of research generators Pielke (2007) Pure scientists: Only interested in doing research Science arbiters: Respond to specific questions from policy makers but do not express preferences Issue advocates: Aim to influence policy in a particular direction Honest brokers: Clarify and potentially expand the policy options available to decision makers
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. Evidence/Science based Advising Advocacy Cooperation /inside Confrontation/ outside Lobbying Activism Interest/Values based
  10. 10. What is a PEC goal? A brief vision statement that describes a change you hope to contribute to through your policy engagement work. This could include: 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 research knowledge. A change in the prominence of a specific research theme on the public policy agenda. A change in the nature of the policy discourse.
  11. 11. 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
  12. 12. 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 has happened. The long term outcome you seek is likely to be something you hope to contribute to rather than achieve entirely on your own.
  13. 13. Making your PEC goal more strategic Our PEC goal is… Before: “To understand a changing India and to engage in and inform public debate.” After: “Processes and structures to understand the governance of Indian cities will be better informed by a more transparent, rigorous and diverse evidence base.”
  14. 14. Our PEC goal is… Before: “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 making process.” After: “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.”
  15. 15. Our PEC goal is… Before: “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 and credibility.” After: “By 2015, national macroeconomic policymaking processes have improved and have become more pro-people.”
  16. 16. Session 2: Introduction to the strategic planning process
  17. 17. Strategic Planning Cycle 4. Develop strategic approach (impact story) 3. Situational analysis Who? 5. Devise PEC action plan Revise PEC plans? How? What? 6. M+E 2. Capacity assessment 1. Setting PEC goals
  18. 18. Key questions that your PEC strategy should answer: 1. Goals: What are the desirable outcomes from our PEC activity? 2. Context: How does our approach respond to the situation we are in? 3. Primary audiences and influencers: Who do we want to influence and inform? What do we know about them? 4. Communications pathways: Who is best placed to communicate with each of our audiences and what are the best ways to reach them? 5. Timescales: When will be the best times to communicate? 6. Resources: What do we need - what might we have? 7. Indicators: How will we measure progress/success?
  19. 19. Do you need cross-institutional PEC strategy? Institutional strategy Research strategy Project research uptake strategies Fundraising strategy Institutional PEC strategy?? Project research uptake strategies Marketing & corporate comms strategy Project research uptake strategies
  20. 20. 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 strategy. Encourages ongoing stakeholder engagement. Provides space to strategise outside of the immediate needs of specific funders. Capacity building focused on both supply and demand of research knowledge. Provides longer term vision of your TT’s positioning and influence. Enables more effective packaging and dissemination of results.
  21. 21. Institutional PEC strategy Programmatic research uptake Encourages cross-institutional learning and collaboration. Useful data and stories about uptake are captured. Maintains independence and credibility. Improves understanding of policy processes in specific contexts. Attracts new partners and collaborations. Increases chances of high quality research informing policy processes. Enables engagement in new policy spaces. Channels funding to research communications.
  22. 22. Session 3.1: Organisational and individual capacity assessment
  23. 23. Assessing PEC capacity Individual capacities Personal capabilities to engage in policy processes and communicate research Organisational capacities Institutional commitment to PEC and ability to engage External capacities Key external stakeholders’ knowledge skills and attitudes needed to understand and/or use research Internal context: Resources Strategy Structure External context: Political Social Technological
  24. 24. Individual capacities Information literacy (i.e. skills in finding and appraising academic literature) Internal knowledge management Ability to communicate with non-specialists Ability to communicate clear messages Ability to exploit/utilise policy environment (policy entrepreneurship) Ability to create and support networks Ability to carry out, monitor and evaluate PEC work.
  25. 25. Organisational capacities 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.
  26. 26. External capacities Ability to understand research and skills in finding and appraising evidence. Strength of incentives to consider and use evidence in policy making processes. Ability to bring new ideas/evidence to bear on policy discourse and decision making.
  27. 27. 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 communications activities? What is the potential benefit of PEC in terms of research uptake, policy impact, changes to people’s lives?
  28. 28. 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 research communication. What is the risk to the likelihood of good quality research informing policy and practice? What is the risk to your reputation and profile?
  29. 29. Assessing risks: what sort of risks? 1. • • • • • 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?
  30. 30. 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?
  31. 31. Session 3.2 Situational Analysis Or CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!
  32. 32. 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 influencers?  Whose knowledge counts?  What knowledge systems and networks exist?  When are the best opportunities to influence change?
  33. 33. Donors Policy Formulation Agenda Setting Civil Society Monitoring and Evaluation Private Sector Cabinet Parliament Decision Making Ministries Policy Implementation Young, J (2004)
  34. 34. 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.
  35. 35. Contextual analysis tools         Power mapping Stakeholder mapping Network mapping Audience analysis Market research Influence mapping SWOT analysis Forcefield analysis Theory of change and engagement strategy
  36. 36. 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
  37. 37. 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 you want. Your strategic approach should reflect what you learnt about the policy and knowledge landscape from your mapping exercise.
  38. 38. 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: Partners Funders Individuals Groups of individuals Civil society organisations Academics Policy actors Media
  39. 39. Network Mapping – step 2 Categorise your stakeholders and consider what level of access you have to them: Type of stakeholder 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Partners and funders Researchers Civil society Policy maker Others including private sector, media etc Access 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Core partner Good relationship Some relationship Distant relationship No relationship
  40. 40. 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 influence others?
  41. 41. Network Mapping - step 4 Analyse each of your stakeholders using the following criteria: A. What is their attitude towards the issue? Supportive, neutral, negative B. How influential are they in contributing to the change you seek? Low, medium, high
  42. 42. 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
  43. 43. Your impact story should briefly summarise your strategic approach to achieving the change you want. It may contain the following elements:  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.
  44. 44. Session 4: Analysing audiences and appropriate communication pathways
  45. 45. Why does research communication matter?
  46. 46. 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.
  47. 47. Communication not as Dissemination… but as engagement
  48. 48. 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 factors etc
  49. 49. Three ingredients of effective communication
  50. 50. Main delivery channels
  51. 51. Research Programmes Communications throughout research project that may inform: Research agenda Methodological choices Communications strategy
  52. 52. Communications Pathways 1. Who is best placed to communicate with each of your target audiences? Who has the skills, knowledge, contacts, legitimacy, networks? 2. How do your audiences access information and what/who influences them? 3. What kind of tactics will help you engage with specific audiences? 4. What kind of communication outputs/activities will be most effective in reaching your audiences? Tweets, blog, policy brief, workshop, report, media, journal?
  53. 53. Timescale  When will be the best time to influence policy or practice?  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 planning?
  54. 54. Resources  Have you already mapped out the activities you plan to undertake?  What are the major resource implications – time, materials, skills?  Will resource limitations or capability issues mean making any hard choices – how will you prioritise between desirable communications activities?
  55. 55. When Launch of project Outputs and pathways •Press release to national media and networks Resources Audience(s) Project comms officer Policy makers, Civil society orgs •Launch Website Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Researchers, funders •Launch Blog • Launch Facebook page + Twitter account •Project e-newsletter •Working Papers online Researchers time and support from comms officer •Workshops •Policy briefings $$$ •Working papers High level roundtable Policy briefings Final report Press conference Journal articles Expected outcomes Awareness of project and interest in collaboration All Inform policy debate Academics Grow credibility of project Policy makers, civil society orgs Research design and uptake academics $$ $ Comms officer Researcher’s time Policy makers NGOs, funders, decision makers Practitioners academics Policy/practice changes Influence research agendas
  56. 56. Session 5: Next steps in developing your PEC strategy
  57. 57. What we covered in this workshop 4. Develop strategic approach (impact story) 3. Situational analysis Who? 5. Devise PEC action plan Revise PEC plans? How? What? 6. M+E 2. Capacity assessment 1. Setting PEC goals
  58. 58. 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 reviewed by? 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 external analysis. Theory of change – You strategic approach/impact narrative Strategic framework Goal 1. State any links to how this relates to broader institutional strategy Goal 2. Goal 3. Specific objectives (steps towards achieving your goal) These should be SMART and identify key stakeholders Activities/Outputs Engagement activities/plans Indicators Milestones KPIs Resources People/Who? Networks Budgets