‘From Research to Advocacy’ – The Debate
Many researchers would like to see their work inform, inspire and influence policy-makers and practitioners, but they often struggle to get their work noticed and utilised. On the other hand, advocacy organisations are good at reaching the general public and policy-makers with their messages, but they often lack a strong and sufficient evidence base. Meanwhile the target of both academics and advocates are policy-makers who have to balance politics with evidence-based policy LIDC – ONE roundtable 28th November 2011.
Last night, the London International Development Centre and advocacy group ONE hosted an event as part of their series on ‘New Approaches to Development’ to debate the link between academic research and advocacy for development. The event was moderated by Lucy Lamble, Global Development editor for the Guardian. The panel included Chris Whitty, Head of Research, DFID and Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Angela Little, Professor at the Institute of Education, and Jamie Drummond, Executive Director of ONE.
Chris Whitty said that advocacy provided an ‘operating space’ for change to happen, while research can identify where things are not working and advance knowledge. “If it is to be useful and believed, it must be neutral,” he emphasized and said that evidence should drive advocacy (and not the other way around).
Angela Little spoke of ‘two discourses’, one of optimism and moving forward (advocacy) and one of inquiry and evidence (research). She worried about any advocacy that “ignores, distorts, or exaggerates” to make its case.
Jamie Drummond highlighted that the political process doesn’t always allow for the right decisions to be made for the right reasons. He said that with advocacy campaigns, facts were not enough – the messages also have to be marketable to the public.
The debate revealed a number of questions, challenges and tensions:
- Where is the research? asked Jamie, “We have to go and find it”. The panel discussed the challenges of repackaging research for non-academics, and the need to tailor information for a variety of different audiences.
- Consensus or confusion – It can be difficult for advocates to know where there is enough evidence pointing in one direction to put their weight behind and scale up. Indeed, the evidence of need is quite coherent (e.g. where are most people starving, poor, dying), evidence of impact is more complex.
- Context is critical – In the field of education, there is little evidence that holds across countries and contexts. – the local context is important and evidence should not be too readily generalised.
- Politics takes precedence. Even when there is strong evidence in one area, political preferences can take precedence. For example, if politician needs more women voters, they will be on the lookout to champion causes with a gender angle (and less open to some other agendas).
- Speed –The operating speed of researchers and policymakers can be vastly different (in his experience, 3 months minimum for researchers even for a literature review versus often 5 days maximum for policymakers to take a decision)
- Evidence versus importance – A concern was raised that the evidence agenda would favour certain causes (such as health, which has a relatively strong evidence-base) over others (such as education and governance, which have less well developed evidence-bases), despite the importance of these latter areas for development.
Overall there was a sense of optimism, with all panellists stating that there has been much progress in the last five years, with development practitioners and advocacy groups regarding evidence as valuable to inform their work and researchers keen to have wider societal impact as a result of their academic work. Lucy Lamble summed up three take-away points: (1) the need to focus more on synthesis of existing research to respond to policy questions, (2) to be more honest about the limits of the evidence-base, (3) that not all policy can be based on evidence alone.
For more information on LIDC’s event series: http://www.lidc.org.uk/events.php
New report on displacement in northeast India
The government of India has failed in its duty to protect more than 800,000 people forced to flee their homes due to ethnic violence in northeast India over the past 20 years, according to a report released today by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“Most of the people displaced by this violence have been forgotten,” says Elisabeth Rasmusson, the NRC Secretary General. “State governments and district authorities have provided different levels of assistance. However, this has generally been insufficient to make IDPs’ recovery possible and ensure their continuing access to basic necessities.”
The report focuses on the situation of internally displaced people from the 1990s to the start of 2011. During this period more than 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes in episodes of inter-ethnic violence in western Assam, along the border between the states of Assam, Meghalaya and in Tripura. According to conservative estimates, more than 76,000 of them are still living in displacement camps.
Currently, there is no specific policy on IDPs and the report strongly recommends that the Indian government passes an IDP law or draws up a national IDP policy to hold state and district authorities to account. Northeast India is often neglected as a region, despite ongoing conflict and displacement. “Effecting change is quite difficult in a situation where there is not much government openness to these issues,” said Anne-Kathrin Glatz, the IDMC country analyst, speaking at the launch.
The report provides recommendations for the Indian government and at the state level. “The government of India must take urgent steps to ensure that all people in the northeast are safe, regardless of their ethnic identity, and to protect IDPs there,” says Rasmusson.
According to the report, “In each of the situations analysed, responses by the state authorities were not based on comprehensive assessments of the needs of people displaced either recently or for longer periods, but on political factors including local political demographics, the inconsistent interests of the central government, and different levels of media attention.”
In this scenario, decisions are not made on robust evidence, but on politics. And at the same time, the media is part of this equation, which highlights its potential to get research on this issue into the media and therefore into the debate.
To read the report please click here.
For more information on the report and on these issues contact Anne-Kathrin Glatz, IDMC Country Analyst at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Relay work in South Asia and Northeast India please click here.
Sharing research communication skills in Portugal
By Annie Hoban
“This is the first time these people are in one room to discuss research communication”
– Fátima Proença, Director, ACEP
On Friday, 11 November, I spent the day with a group of ten Portuguese international development researchers at Lisbon’s Clube de Journalistas. I was invited by ACEP, the Associação para a Cooperação Entre os Povos, which, like Panos London, is a communication for development NGO.
ACEP supports a network of civil society organisations in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Mozambique and Angola and works with journalists and filmmakers in Portugal and abroad to raise public awareness of development issues. ACEP has also developed good relationships with Portuguese institutes producing new development research. They see great potential for collaboration to help them communicate research findings both to the Portuguese public and policymakers and to development practitioners in Africa.
However, tellingly, this meeting was the first time they had all come together to discuss research communication in a coherent and strategic way.
As ACEP’s Director Fátima Proença told me: “[Research communication] is an area that we would like also to explore in Portugal. Nowadays, there is a lot of good research but a large part is not communicated, or is hardly communicated and almost nothing in Portuguese language. So, important findings are not available, neither for journalists nor for development workers.”
A few of the researchers – among whom were researchers from the Centre of African and Development Studies, the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Relations, and the Institute of Agronomy – had personal experiences of building trust and relationships with individual journalists.
The participants developed a number of proposals for future work on research communication:
- Holding a meeting for journalists and researchers to talk about perceptions of one another and discuss the training and tools needed to develop their skills
- Holding a forum to ‘critique of development aid’ and inviting journalists to participate
- Organising more training for researchers and journalists to ensure accuracy of reporting
- Meeting regularly to share communication experience
- Supporting researchers to communicate better with NGOs
- Translating more research into Portuguese
- Emphasis communication during the education of MA students and encouraging dissertations topics of relevance
I shared insights, from the experience of the Relay programme, about working with researchers and the media to build relationships and communication skills to reach the wider public through media coverage. We also discussed the need to strengthen the communication of research by working with research-users (such as policymakers, practitioners and the media) to understand their information needs, in the context of complex political and policy environments.
The meeting was just a starting point in an important process which ACEP are keen to continue developing. They plan to further investigate the information needs of their partners in Africa in order to discern ways in which research can be made most useful – to inform practice on the ground. Participants agreed that ACEP is well placed to be an intermediary, reaching out to both researchers and research-users in Africa and Portugal.
Liliana Azevedo, ACEP programme manager, left the researchers with a couple of questions: what audience did they most want to reach and how could ACEP support this? Panos will look forward to hearing about and supporting the exciting work to come.
Science reporting workshop March 2012
A science communication training workshop for journalists and communications staff will be held in Nairobi from the 26th to 30th March 2012. The workshop has been organised by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) and will focus on imparting the skills needed for effective science communication but will also offer help in understanding the scientific method and scientific consensus.
Applications are welcome from science journalists working within Africa but also science communication staff working within research institutions in Africa. To apply please fill in the application form at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/scienceambassadors and send a copy of a science article or document you have produced in the last six months to Dr Alexander Ademokun at: email@example.com. If you are a broadcast journalist please send a link to a programme you have produced to the same address. Applications should be received no later than the 6th of January 2012.
Successful applicants will be offered scholarships covering their transportation to Nairobi and accommodation for the duration of the workshop. After the workshop participants are expected to take part in a period of mentorship during which they will plan and implement activities in science communication by building on the skills they have developed at the workshop.
If you have any queries or for informal enquiries please do not hesitate to contact Dr Alexander Ademokun at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fellowships for African researchers announced
The fifth call for applications for the African Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowships (ADDRF) has been announced. The 2012 ADDRF seeks to: facilitate more rigorous engagement of doctoral students in research, strengthen their research skills, and provide them an opportunity for timely completion of their doctoral training. The fellowship is aimed at doctoral students with strong commitment to a career in training and/or research. The overall goal of the ADDRF program is to support the training and retention of highly-skilled, locally-trained scholars in research and academic positions across the region.
The ADDRF will award about 18 fellowships in 2012. These fellowships will be awarded to doctoral students who are within two years of completing their thesis at an African university. The intitiative is from the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In this phase of funding and in consideration of IDRC’s health programming priorities, candidates whose dissertation topics address health policy or health systems issues will be given special consideration. The Program has also reserved three fellowships especially for doctoral students conducting research on health inequities in urban areas or the reproductive health of marginalized urban communities. These three fellowships are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The deadline for submission of applications is the 15th January, 2012.
Both the call and application form can be obtained at http://www.aphrc.org/insidepage/?articleid=947