John Lavis’s reflections on how to build effective K*

John N. Lavis, during today’s keynote, provided a series of reflections on how to build effective K*. Building on Derek Brien’s opening remarks Lavis outlined a number of steps that K* practitioners need to think about in order to help ensure evidence is injected into policy dialogue.

John Lavis

John Lavis, McMaster University

Walk the talk

K* practitioners are increasingly engaged in facilitating evidence based policy, but the truth is that when it comes to drawing on an evidence base for K*, practitioners are failing to support their own actions through K* research. Lavis made this point clear by saying “We need to walk the talk when it comes to using research evidence”.  Research in health systems has shown that “interactions matter, timeliness matters, getting stuff to people when a policy window opens matters, concordance between peoples existing beliefs and the evidence matters”. However, although there is evidence to support K* activities, there is still a great deal more to be done in terms of research if we want K* practitioners to be able to point to evidence that supports processes in the wide variety of different contexts that K* operates.

Move beyond context matters

Context, context, context… This same word seems to follow most discussions about K*, but Lavis believes we need to start thinking more squarely about how and why context is so important. “How does context really effect the approaches we use and how we organise ourselves?”, asked Lavis. Drawing on a study in Europe of 31 countries, including the UK and a series of former Soviet states, he supported his point by reflecting on the diversity of political systems, and the different role stakeholders play in different contexts. These differences require very different answers to how K* processes are set up.

The truth is, most of us  understand the how and why questions associated with our own context, but we often don’t reflect upon these with others working in different areas. As a community it’s important to build a rich dialogue relating to how and why, and learn to share more.

Give organisational experiences the attention they deserve

K* processes are often framed by international organisations, and they have an important role to play in ensuring that when they fund K* initiatives they do not assume the one size fits all position. Lavis would like to see these organisations take advantage of their convening power to ensure that the diversity of experiences is captured and reflected in future programming. Reflecting on the importance of neutrality within the K* process, Lavis uses the example of Argentina to show that, although neutrality is highly desirable, in some contexts political influence is simply not possible without political alignment.

Ensure that rapid knowledge sharing mechanisms have more substance and less show

We seem to be regularly inundated with new ways to interact and engage, especially through online platforms and networks. There is a tendency for rhetoric to focus on the need for dialogue and deliberation, but how meaningful and effective are these new spaces of engagement? Lavis believes strongly that we need to ensure that these spaces are meaningful and don’t overpromise in terms of their ability to initiate productive dialogue. Process again plays a key role here,  by bringing into the spotlight the need to capture insights and ensure that real world experiences  are heard as part of the policy making process. This not only requires creating such spaces, but also developing a feedback loop into policy dailogue.

Don’t neglect information packaging

This was an interesting reflection, and among all the latest thinking and ideas realting to K*,  it’s vital that we don’t forget about the stuff we tend to take for granted. Lavis rightly pointed out that “interactive policy dialogue needs to be placed front and centre” , but “packaging mechanisms can really help support this process”. Policy briefs, case studies and other forms of repackaging are valuable and we need to keep investing in them, and also make sure that K* community retains the skills to be able to repackage research in a purposeful way.

Create a healthy ecosystem of context sensitive examples and models in your jurisdiction

If the K* ecosystem is healthy then K* can thrive. This depends, says Lavis, on ensuring that the different stakeholders involved in K* buy into the process of evidence based decision making, bringing evidence to the fore. For instance, strict guidelines that ensure policy making is based firmly on research evidence can help set a president  and ensure the behaviour of stakeholders is evidence focused.

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