Tag Archives: K-Hub

From the field: tips for policy engagement

Samoan Circle Discussion on Policy Engagement with ADB, UN-Habitat, ICIMOD and MOUD (Nepal)

I have recently been reflecting on a knowledge sharing and learning session I organized in Nepal in March 2015 on the topic of Policy Engagement. This is part of my capacity building role in the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub. A highlight of the 2 days was a panel on policy engagement which was held in a circle where those listening could ask questions by joining the speakers in the inner circle. The speakers included Dr Mahendra Subbha, Joint Secretary DUDBC from Nepal’s Ministry of Urban Development, Bhushan Tuladhar from UN-Habitat (South Asia), Mr Nand Kishor Agrawal of ICIMOD and Vivian Castro-Woolridge of the Asian Development Bank.

Some interesting points that came out of the circle discussion included:

  • In academic and applied research, framing of issue needs to be considered
  • Consider who is the best gatekeeper? Who is a good messenger?
  • Get embedded on major committees so you can take advantage of policy windows, opportunities.
  • Sell how your research can contribute to long-term change
  • Materials should be readable, use native language, have colour and a summary
  • Reach out to those that can help – i.e. media
  • Publish science, be credible but also communicate and be relevant to society
  • Its our responsibility as researchers to create demand.
  • Collaborate (public, private and academic)

At the end of the session, each speaker was asked to give one final piece of “Key Advice”. This is what they said:

  • Think design, pre-policy and disseminate
  • Advocacy, Advocacy, Advocacy
  • Never take a top scientist to a meeting – take a communications expert
  • Rephrase and repackage

What are your tips and lessons? Please share in the comments feature!

As the Khub continues on the path of research and engagement in the urban development field I am constantly reminded of this spirited discussion. I hope it has stuck in our researchers’ minds as well 🙂

I have posted presentations from the 2 day gathering online:

If interested in the session workbook, email me for a copy (michelle.k.laurie(@)gmail.com).

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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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Making sure your research doesn’t sit on the shelf: my recent experience in South Asia

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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.

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NIUA from India presenting their stakeholder influencing map

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ITN-BUET from Bangladesh working on their influencing strategy.

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NIUA from India group discussion on influencing strategy.

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University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka developing their influencing strategy. The workshop was in Sri Lanka so many team members participated!

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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…

 

NOTE:

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

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