Tag Archives: policy influencing

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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Linking research to policy – my new project

I have recently joined an interesting project to establish a South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (funded by the Asian Development Bank).  I will have the opportunity to work with research institutes in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (to start) on sustainable development issues in the urban sector. My role as knowledge management specialist is to build capacity of the researchers to undertake outcome focused research for policy influencing.  I am tasked with creating a template to help the researchers develop policy influencing strategies, improve technical writing skills for policy briefs, provide a 2-day training workshop and will also act as a mentor on an ongoing basis for two years.  For anyone who knows me, this sounds like a dream!

In some ways, it is a dream and in other ways, I have gone down a rabbit hole of jargon that is giving me nightmares.

evaluator_jargon_evalblogAs I consider the assessment I need to undertake as a first step, I cannot imagine asking people about their familiarity or confidence level in using tools like: problem trees, objective tress, force field analysis, stakeholder maps, SWOT, theory of change, the RAPID framework, alignment/interest/influence matrix, outcome mapping, advocacy strategy, communications strategy, etc etc etc.  Don’t you feel overwhelmed just reading the list of available and suggested tools? I do.

This is forcing me to really take a step back and figure out what I need to know from the participants beforehand in order to design a good training and what is the best way to get the information from them (this is before I even start doing the real work!).

While originally I thought a simple online survey would work, I have decided that this is not the best tool given many people may not use the same terms for undertaking analytical tasks.  My simple assessment could get wordy and complicated.  Moreover, if I leave the online survey open-ended, I won’t have the opportunity to really understand the responses provided without proper follow-up.  This leads me to the idea of conducting group interviews with each centre.  This way, I can probe into the questions I ask with the group from each centre and build on the conversation as it evolves. I believe I will gain a better understanding of the types of methods they have used (or not used) previously.

I have already had one introductory Skype meeting with each centre so this is also a nice way to build our relationship given I am going to be working with them for the next two years.

Sooooo…given I want to learn about what experience (or lack of experience) the centres have with undertaking outcome oriented research for policy influencing these are the questions I’m considering using to guide my interviews.  The results need to inform the design of a template for policy influencing as well as a 2-day training for the centres.  I would love your feedback as its still in draft form.  Or maybe you work in this area and have other bits of advice for me?  If so, thanks for sharing!

1.    Please share an example or two of research you undertook in the past specifically with the purpose of changing policy:

  • How was the research topic decided?
  • Did the research lead to a change? If yes, what were the key factors?
  • Did you document your assumptions for creating change? If yes, how?
  • Were other actors/partners involved? How so?
  • Did you have a strategy in place that you followed?
  • Did you use specific tools or techniques to understand the different actors/stakeholders involved?  Those who would support or challenge your research?
  • How did you monitor the change that took place?
  • How do you know your influence on the change, as opposed to other outside forces?
  •       If not, have you used a strategy for other advocacy work? If yes, please describe what this looked like.
  •       If not, how do you feel embarking on this type of work in the future? What are you most excited about and most concerned about?

 

2.    Please describe how you typically disseminate the knowledge generated from research.

  • What methods do you use? Example strategy?
  • What has been most successful? What has been least successful?
  • How do you define your audiences?
  • Do you typically write different messages for different audiences?
  • Do you work with communication professionals?
  • What type of communications products do you think policy makers find most useful? For example:
    • Policy briefs
    • Opinion articles, News items
    • Media, Community radio
    • Working groups
    • High profile events
    • Public pressure

3.    To what extent are policies in your field evidence-informed?

  • What are some of the factors that determine whether, and to what extent, evidence informs or even influences policy decisions?
  • Is demand a necessary condition for the uptake of research?
  • Do you think well-conceived and compellingly packaged research findings stimulate the interest of policy makers?

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