Getting your research into action!
Earlier this year I joined the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (K-Hub) made up of research institutes located in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka (one in each country), as their knowledge management specialist. The K-Hub is funded by the Asian Development Bank for three years and has some additional funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (specifically on the topic of innovative sanitation). It’s an exciting initiative that I’m looking forward to working with. What exactly will I do?
My role is to help the research centres have more impact with their research. There is often an underlying assumption that good information will lead to good decisions. In reality, decision-making is a process and researchers have a role to play beyond producing information (creating a report does not mean you have influence!). The people I’m working with are experiencing a shift from being predominantly researchers to ‘influencers of change’.
Our internal K-Hub journey started with a capacity assessment, followed by a group training on how to influence policy and practice for researchers. Each institute is now developing a work plan to guide efforts in their respective countries.
NIUA from India presenting their stakeholder influencing map
ITN-BUET from Bangladesh working on their influencing strategy.
NIUA from India group discussion on influencing strategy.
University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka developing their influencing strategy. The workshop was in Sri Lanka so many team members participated!
Institute of Engineering from Tribuvan University in Nepal and their government partner are working on their influencing strategy. They came on board just before the meeting so only 2 members were able to participate on short notice.
The training we undertook in May 2014 introduced a process to help the researchers consider from the start how their findings might be used, and how to build bridges with others so the priorities they identify can become the priorities of their governments and practitioners. Given there are similar efforts being undertaken around the world (building capacity for influencing policy/practice), I wanted to share our process so far including the methodology we are working with.
There are many ways to go about this (see note below) and after reviewing a lot of material generated by others combined with my own experience, I narrowed it down to six steps:
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 influence story
Step 6: Monitoring and learning
Each step is part of a thinking process to remind researchers about WHY they are undertaking the research and that research is only part of the influencing process. Indeed, we need to build evidence however we can also play a role in helping knowledge to be used to make change happen. You can find the six-step process described in detail (with activities to help you think through the step) in the attached guide (TrainingWorkbook_SL May 4-5-Final Formatted). I view the guidebook as a living document to be updated based on the experience of our K-Hub. Feel free to send me comments as well! The accompanying power point is here: K-hub_Training_May4-5_Final
While obvious for some, planning for change (i.e. outcomes) is quite challenging for many people. Project design (including research) based on outputs and activities has been acceptable practice for a long time. No one asked why are you doing this research or this project? What difference will it make? What change will you contribute to and how? Given this is a different way of thinking for the K-Hub researchers I don’t expect the shift will happen in a day. However, I will be satisfied with my contribution when I hear the researchers talking about changes they want to contribute to, people they need to network with and why their strategy is working (or not) rather than reports and seminars. We have two to three years…
In developing the methodology, I reviewed numerous resources on line. Some of these resources are listed at the end of the training manual however many more were consulted, particularly on the theory behind influencing policy and practice. I also interviewed three practitioners who provided me invaluable advice. Thank you Enrique Mendizabal (onthinktanks.org), Nancy White (fullcirc.com) and James Georgalakis (http://www.ids.ac.uk/person/james-georgalakis) for generously sharing your ideas.
These musings are my personal reflections and I will be sure to keep reflecting (and updating you) on the process over the next two years. Webpages with project information are being developed by the K-Hub and will be shared when available. The ADB project page is http://www.adb.org/projects/46465-001/main