Tips for Researchers Drafting a Policy Engagement Strategy

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

As part of the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub all national centres are required to draft a policy engagement strategy. This is the metaphorical bridge in the illustration above.

Researchers in the project I work with, do a policy engagement strategy for each work plan objective that focuses on making a change in the urban development sector. The purpose is to help researchers, who often are engaging in policy dialogue and change for the first time, think through their ideas more thoroughly. As well, it is a great way to stimulate discussions in the team, bring information forward and detail a plan of action for ensuring engagement of stakeholders throughout the change process (from ideation to implementation ideally). Finally, it’s essential so that the researchers can BRIDGE (see image above) the knowledge generated through their research and the change they want to see in policy and practice.

I drafted a template for this in May 2014 and we held a training. I based it on many works found on the Internet and discussions with practitioners. More information about that process is here. I received several draft strategies this week which has led to me to consider how to re-iterate some of my key points. I updated the strategy and sent some tips to the researchers as a reminder of the main ideas of the engagement strategy.

An updated version of the template is here: K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated

As a refresher, the 6 main steps include:

  • Step 1: Define the issue
  • Step 2: Articulate the goal
  • Step 3: Understand your context
  • Step 4: Identify decision makers, key actors and relationships
  • Step 5: Describe your engagement process
  • Step 6: Monitoring and learning

The tips I provided were the following:

1. Step 1-4 are background information.
  • Going through these steps helps you ensure you have thought about your issue clearly.
    • What is it is? Is it relevant? Who else is working on it? What policies exist? Who supports or doesn’t support your issue? What are the windows of opportunity to create change? What is your objective with respect to engagement? (this may be different than your work plan objective (more specific) however it may be the same as the work plan too), USE THE GUIDING QUESTIONS IN THE TEMPLATE.
  • Be as specific as possible with your identification of stakeholders to influence/engage. People are important (as well as the major groupings). This supports knowledge management – i.e. your entire team should be able to identify the different people they need to talk to (individuals matter a lot in making change). Figure out who has influence and who is keen on your ideas (or not). This helps you design your strategy for engagement. You will need different tactics to bring different people on board.
  • In addition, this document is meant to be shared with others on your team and other stakeholders of interest. Thus it should be detailed enough that people understand the issue, recognize the context/background and opportunities for change and your road map to making change.
2. Step 5. – this should describe HOW you are going to engage and how you are getting knowledge to your different stakeholders.
  • All the aspects of involving stakeholders should be in this section from the outset of your ideas/research to final product (its more than dissemination at the end!). Forming working groups, involving peer reviewers from your network – these are all ways to engage and bring people on board to your ideas.
  • You should think about big picture tasks but also communication tactics – for example, do you need to create data visualizations, work with the media, NGOs or others to make materials more accessible for others.
  • You should include time to work on key messages!
  • This section is the heart of your strategy.
  • Make sure you document your assumptions of why you think your strategy will work. This is how we learn (in case things don’t go as planned). If you recall the recent talk by John Young from ODI ( he spoke to our researchers on monitoring and learning), this section is your Theory of Change.
  • You should have a timeline here as this is a mini work plan specific to your engagement. It will overlap with your work plan. You are not starting from scratch but rather building on what you started and getting into more detail.
3. Step 6. – This is exactly what we worked on during our session on Monitoring and Learning in Kathmandu (with John Young as per above).
  • Use the work sheet from the meeting in March and detail out a few indicators (see step 6 in K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated).
  • Start with ideas from your work plan however adapt as needed. We talked about expect to see, like to see, and love to see indicators.
  • Monitoring is important as how will you know how much you have achieved and why? How will you communicate this later?
  • For long term sustainability of the K-Hub, donors want and need this information.
I really believe these engagement strategies are interesting as they tell the story of how each researcher plans to make change based on evidence. After reading a few, I realize that in effect they are a case study of each project. If we manage to write great stories (whether we succeed or not) and explain our intent, why it worked, why it didn’t work and our suggestions for the future, these could be an interesting piece of work for others in the world also working on trying to make change. Thus, the K-Hub could publish these as a joint Knowledge Product at the end of the first phase. The K-Hub could also use it for marketing purposes for sustainability of the K-Hub for the longer term.
My final message was that despite being new and perhaps daunting, researchers should take time to make these engagement strategies GREAT and continue to update them. This is valuable for the change making process as well as the wider K-Hub journey.
What do you think?
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2 Comments

Filed under knowledge management

2 responses to “Tips for Researchers Drafting a Policy Engagement Strategy

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Laurie! I really appreciate learning what you are doing internationally (for those of us country bound, it is a treat to read). It is obvious to me that you are a very thoughtful professional striving to learn and guide as you go.
    I look forward to further postings. Take care!

  2. Michelle Laurie

    Thanks Christine! This dream project is a challenge and opportunity all wrapped into one. It’s helpful to take time to reflect on the process. Albeit difficult to get researchers to take this time as well, I hope it will result in better outcomes for their work 🙂

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