Author: 
James Georgalakis (Ed.)
Nasreen Jessani (Ed.)
Rose Oronje (Ed.)
Ben Ramalingam (Ed.)
Publication Date
March 16, 2017
Affiliation: 

Institute of Development Studies (Georgalakis, Ramalingam); Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (Jessani); African Institute for Development Policy, or AFIDEP (Oronje)

"Shifts in ideas about research for development have seen externally imposed models and theory-based policy prescriptions replaced by processes of participation and co-production, with a greater focus on local knowledge and engaging key stakeholders. Paradoxically, however, greater acknowledgement of the social process involved in translating evidence into practice seems now to be accompanied by a loss of social content in the very knowledge that is recognised as evidence." - From the Foreword by Sarah Cook, Director, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence

This edited collection of peer-reviewed papers explores challenges faced by organisations and individuals involved in evidence-informed development through a diverse set of case studies and think-pieces. It illustrates the varied and complex pathways through which research, knowledge, or evidence may (or may not) be taken up by policymakers and practitioners. Drawing on examples of research into policy/practice relationships - from context-specific action research, to engaging with embedded, national policy institutions and global processes - the book communicates the message that social relations rather than the "technical" aspects of evidence are key to influence or uptake. The dominant themes include: building networks and partnerships; contextualisation of knowledge and power dynamics; and modes of knowledge brokerage.

The seed for this publication was planted at the Research Uptake Symposium and Training Exchange - ResUp MeetUp - funded by the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID) that took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in February 2015. It was there that practitioners came together to break down and explore some of the challenges and successes that they have grappled with over the last decade. Later that year, the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)- and DFID-funded Impact Initiative for international development research was launched to support grantees from the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems programme, to collaborate and exchange knowledge to achieve impact. During a conference in South Africa where learning was shared between ESRC DFID research grant-holders, it became apparent that there were valuable stories to be shared and that needed to be better understood by a wide constituency of research to policy actors. This collection, which has been co-funded by the ESRC DFID Partnership and Institute of Development Studies (IDS), is not an attempt to provide generalisable tools. Instead, it seeks to contribute to new frameworks by offering a diversity of viewpoints - from the knowledge management methodology that has been pioneered and evolved by Practical Action, to the programme-level support for maximising research impact of the Evidence and Policy Group to the research uptake approaches of ESRC DFID Joint Fund grant-holders. Far from being restricted to the perspective of academic producers or co-producers of knowledge, these case studies and think-pieces provide a broader analysis of what makes an effective broker in complex knowledge ecosystems.

Taken as a whole, the book's contributors together show that the social and interactive realities of mobilising knowledge comprise several layers: (i) individual and collective capacities, (ii) individual relationships, (iii) networks and group dynamics, and (iv) cultural norms and politics, which are all key to understanding how to make evidence really matter. The introductory chapter highlights some of the key themes explored throughout the chapters, such as: individual capacity to behave as an effective actor in the largely social process of knowledge exchange and learning; co-production of knowledge with key stakeholder groups; the importance of individual capacity, both in terms of research methods training and knowledge brokerage capability; weaknesses in trust, relationships and networks as barriers to success; contextualisation of knowledge and a formal networked approach; the navigation of power dynamics that affect the demand for research evidence; the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to mobilise knowledge, or at least make it more accessible; and the concept of brokering. To expand a bit on the latter, what stands out from the case studies are 3 distinguishable modes of delivery of research to policy and practice intermediary behaviour: (i) direct brokering, which ranges from brokering as policy advocacy to a more benign form of knowledge exchange and can involve, for example, providing technical assistance to decision-makers through synthesis and distilling of long technical documents into short and easy-to-understand formats; (ii) indirect brokering and convening, which can involve styles such as information intermediary, knowledge translator, knowledge broker, and innovation broker; and (iii) embedded knowledge gateways, which are, for example, knowledge services such as the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre and other help-desk and learning programmes designed to support development agencies' use of evidence.

The book's editors write, "If there is one key message that you take away from this collection we hope it will be that research to policy processes are largely social....Unless we can be more cognisant of these social realities when designing and implementing programmes, we will never escape the general feeling of frustration shared by donors, researchers and practitioners that repeating the trick of turning evidence into action is so hard."

Table of Contents:

Source: 

"Is it time to stop talking about research uptake?", by James Georgalakis, March 23 2017, and IDS website - both accessed on March 28 2017. Image caption: "Scribe from the Lessons from a Decade's Research on Poverty: Innovation, Engagement and Impact Conference in Pretoria, South Africa"