Strategies in policy engagement

In the second of two sessions on policy engagement, three speakers highlighted various strategies in engaging policy-makers during the Thursday parallel session before lunch. Geoffrey Lairumbi from Kemri-Wellcome in Kenya presented a snapshot of the different players involved in research and their expectations on benefit sharing. The “what, who, and when” of the social value of research was explored in 50 interviews of stakeholder groups in Kenya including researchers, policy makers and industry.

The key question was “what is the value of the research?” The community voices appeared to be interested in short-term benefits such as regular monitoring, general assistance, and strengthening of services. “From what they have been telling me, as we get into that research, there are those small benefits that they will get free treatment”. In terms of researchers, they want training, career development, patents and knowledge. “When you are looking at a research project, the primary thing is that you to think in terms of yourself and then others. The question is “what is in this project for me.” Policy makers were interested in community mobilisation and capacity building among other things.

Due to challenges each group has to circumvent, they each appear to do their own thing based on what they think is important. There are also practical barriers including the complexity and longevity of the research process and actor interests. Another issue for public engagement was whether there should be continual and long-term engagement vs once-off study specific encounters. Should the existing institutions be strengthened, or are we looking at new “knowledge brokers”?

Rose Oronje of the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Kenya discussed the bold and difficult task of targeting parliamentarians in a presentation on “Sharing research with parliamentarians and journalists – lessons learnt”.

The APHRC is a Pan-African organisation conducting research on population, health and education to inform policy and practice. Policy makers are regarded as parliamentarians, technocrats and civil servants who write policies, as well as district level civil servants who prepare plans. Members of Parliament (MPs) have an oversight role to solve societal problems, while journalists expand development information, thereby promoting its uptake.

The programme actively involves MPs in research dissemination meetings, and forms partnerships around issues. Champion MPs are identified by multiple organisations agreeing on a common issue framed to highlight benefits to MPs by using research in their work. Prior to the elections in Kenya, the Centre highlighted to MPs their future benefits by investing in the youth resulting in the establishment of Youth Empowerment Centres using constituent development funds. Clerk assistants (civil servants) responsible for parliamentary committees are key stakeholders in getting MPs’ attention. The Centre uses research to demonstrate the extent of the problems facing MPs’ constituencies, and how it can help development.

“We clearly state the role MPs can play in addressing challenges, and we try to understand the problems they have in accessing and using research evidence,” said Rose. Some challenges included MPs not knowing which research institutions were credible; lack of internet access; interest in amassing wealth rather than evidence-based policy.

In working with journalists, the APHRC works through journalistic associations, targets individual journalists, makes awards of excellence, writes media releases, conducts training and sensitisation sessions, field visits and writes media features/letters to the editor/piggy-backing on other issues. The Centre’s achievements include the establishment of the Kenya Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, and for the first time in Kenya, a budget line for Family Planning services was included in Kenya’s national budget. Lessons learnt include that sustained engagement is critical; research needs to be framed in specific ways; and working in partnerships has more impact than working individually.

Maurice Yaogo, GREFSaD, Burkina Faso showed a French video on “Promoting evidence-based decision making in health, science and new technologies”. Through community-theatre, it featured the problems women face in Burkina Faso through community-theatre, after which the actors engaged with the audience. About 80% of the women are poorly educated and this method is a good way of conveying key health messages. The video was shown to policy-makers prior to being shown to the community, which illustrated how various media can be used for disseminating information to policy-makers.

John Young of the Overseas Development Institute ventured that lessons can be learnt from other disciplines in terms of policy engagements.

1) Partnership brokering through a partnership broking accreditation scheme (PBAS);
2) Evidence policy-making in the UK to encourage bureaucrats to be more evidence-based: the policy hub;
3) The innovation systems approach recognises that there’s a need for a rich network of actors and connections between them for research based evidence to flow into policy in practice;
4) The World Bank Knowledge Economy Approach is another way of looking at innovative systems, to assess the ability of countries to capitalise on the knowledge they produce. It is focused on emerging countries in Europe; and
5) How coalitions can affect change is covered by DFID in Nigeria called “Coalitions for Change” which include researchers, policy makers and the private sector to promote better development policy in practice.

(web links of these policy engagement sites will be added in due course)

Posted by Greer van Zyl, Healthwrite

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