Researcher policymaker: A missing bridge?

Knowledge Café

Knowledge Café

It’s quite amazing the amount of time and effort that southern researchers invest to research their ideas and present them to the world, despite the numerous challenges they face throughout this path. And ohh the pride they take in that! The role of communication is to define how big that “world” is.. It could be anything from a desk drawer to an implemented policy.

In most developing countries, unfortunately, the odds are that most research ends up warm and cozy in an office desk drawer. Not to sound satirical, it’s no secret that developing countries are hardly “the place” for hearing out what the people have to say, let alone the researchers who go out of their way to not only add to their own knowledge but to contribute to bringing about change in their societies. With that said, it’s not quite safe to blame it all on bad communication now, is it?

This blog post is supposed to highlight some of the challenges that African researchers face in “doing” research and “communicating” it to inform and advice policy. Wrapping up our latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Training Workshop, we picked some of the participants’ brains regarding that particular topic.

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The policymakers’ take and advice on research communication challenges

Policy Panel

Policy Panel

Any story has two sides. Research communication is no different; there are researchers and there are decision makers.. In developing countries, however, there is more to the challenge than a bridge between researchers and policy makers. Following up on the GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Training Workshop, this blog takes to the policymaking side of the issue; specifically regarding the challenges in assessing research evidence and research uptake. Eric Aligula (Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, KIPPRA) and Leonard Kimani (Director, Economic Sector, National Economic and Social Council) talk about the main gaps and opportunities for research uptake in Kenya.

Leonard Kimani first talks about the challenges of policymakers in assessing and utilizing research in policymaking. Regarding policy briefs, he argues that policymakers appreciate policy briefs as an effective research communication tool. Kimani discusses a number of “Dos & Don’ts” for researchers, to help them maximize the opportunity of their research reaching the right audience. These are:


  • Researchers should be very familiar with the research agenda, and make sure that the agenda is relevant to the challenges that are specific to a certain organization; whether the organization is governmental, counter governmental… etc.
  • They must also make sure that the quality of the research that they do is comprehensive, having in depth, and offering alternative practical solutions to the decision maker.
  • Mechanisms of dissemination should be put in place so that the research results could be shared, which could be through conferences, workshops, retreats, web portals or blogs.

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“Financial inclusion and innovation in Africa” – AERC’s 39th Biannual Research Workshop

aaa-anniversaryThe African Economic Research Consortium (AERC)’s second Biannual Research Workshop of this year kicked off in Nairobi, Kenya, this morning. With a special focus on “Financial inclusion and innovation in Africa”, the 39th plenary session will be followed by concurrent sessions from December 2-5, 2013. Three papers are being discussed today, and followed by a policy round table discussion. The authors of the plenary papers are: Thorsten Beck (Tilburg University and Cass Business School); Laura Klapper (World Bank); Peter Ondiege (AfDB) and Lydia Ndirangu and Esman Nyamongo (Central Bank of Kenya).

Established in 1988 as a public not-for-profit organization devoted to the advancement of economic policy research and training in Africa, AERC celebrated yesterday its 25 years of excellence in capacity building in economic research and training, as well as service in economic policy research on November 30, 2013. This anniversary provides AERC with an opportunity not only to showcase its achievements over the years, but also to analyze the success factors for future research and training programs. Networking, collaboration and partnerships came up as main success factors which have been augmented by the synergy between research and the training programme.

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Africa’s challenge: The ‘jobless growth’

Edited by Zeinab Sabet and Shahira Emara

For over 40 years, Africa has not witnessed such a rapid growth as recently. Out of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, 6 are African! However, such growth is not always coupled with a decrease in inequality or a remarkable reduction in poverty. While some African countries have experienced growth with significant reduction in poverty, poverty rate remains high in most countries regardless of their economic performance. In the latter cases, growth has been even named by some studies ‘jobless growth’. This is where the African challenge remains.

Witness Simbanegavi, Director of Research at the African Economic Research Consortium, argues that growth is not being channelled in the right way to benefit the vulnerable people. On the other hand, and unlike the Latin American region, Africa lacks strong social protection policies. According to Simbanegavi, what Africa needs now is a pro-poor growth coupled with improved social protection policies; only this paradigm can lead to an enhancement of the welfare of the poorest.

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“Climate Change and Economic Development in Africa”, socioeconomic and climate scenarios in the African continent

Climate change and economic development in Africa are pressing issues within the African continent. Although Africa is pressurized by problems of poverty alleviation and health issues, yet lately climate change and economic development became a major concern. While African countries have lower overall and per capita global warming emissions on the planet, they are also likely to suffer from the consequences of climate change. Droughts, famine, desertification, and population displacement are the impacts of such a rising danger within the continent. In the context of high levels of poverty and malnutrition, the priority for many African countries is increasing access to energy services and improving the economic welfare of their people. The African Economic Research Consortium’s (AERC) is organizing its Biannual Research Workshop addressing the topic of “climate change and economic development”. The event is scheduled on Sunday June 2, 2013 at the Mount Meru Hotel, Arusha, Tanzania.

AERC has embarked upon an initiative of an interactive live webcast for the workshop allowing the audience to follow the proceedings on the plenary session. The live web cast is available directly from: videos will also be made available on the YouTube link on the website as the meeting progresses. For updates through Twitter, the AERC twitter handle is @AERCAFRICA and through the RSS link available on the website.

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Tips to overcome research communications challenges

A successful researcher needs to be an effective communicator of his/her own research. This is why GDNet committed itself to help southern researchers communicate their work more effectively. Through its series of research communications capacity building training events, and in collaboration with research communication and media consultants, GDNet creates an opportunity for researchers to build their capacity and skills, improve their ability and increase their confidence in communicating their research to policy to maximise its uptake and impact.

But training researchers on research communications is not only about developing their communications skills. It is important that researchers deeply understand and analyse the political and social context in their respective countries before approaching policymakers. In this respect, we are keen to allocate time at our research communications training workshops for a brainstorming session. During this session, researchers think, share and exchange what they think are the challenges in their respective countries, and the tools and tactics they assess as successful and may help them to overcome those challenges.

Following up on our latest blog on the challenges of research communications, “Research uptake: a road hedged up with thorns”, we share with you some more interviews conducted at the latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, in November 2012.

In the video below, researchers talk about the challenges they face in their respective countries when it comes to approaching relevant policymakers. They also suggest some successful tactics that would help them and their homologues get their voices heard.

Below are some tips and tactis:

  • Organizing dissemination workshops that bring together researchers, policymakers and media practitioners
  • Taking part of informal events where policymakers are present
  • Making use of social media
  • Using media to reach a broader audience/ordinary public
  • Communicating research at an institutional level – researchers to liaise with their institutions/organizations to get their findings disseminated given that a researcher has more power as an institution

A word of advise to all our researchers: Do not shy away from knocking the doors!

Interested to hear more from southern researchers, watch the following interviews:

Research uptake: a road hedged up with thorns

Why do researchers struggle to communicate their research for evidence-based policymaking?

The challenges facing southern researchers in the Arab world

Good research hidden behind walls of subscriptions

Financement : Défi majeur de la recherche sur le développement

Research uptake: a road hedged up with thorns

“The road that goes from a piece of research to public policy is a winding, forked and blurry one” (Weyrauch y Selvood, 2007)

The goal of any research is to have an impact, and not to be kept in a drawer or forgotten on a bookshelf.
Wordle: Research Communications II

The global south does not lack robust economic and social research; a lot of it is being carried out with the intention of helping policymakers develop better policies for better development. Sadly, very little of that research achieves its objective mainly because it is poorly communicated to its intended target right audience.

Southern researchers experience particular barriers to having their knowledge influence global debates on development. Accessing development research and data, securing research funding, communicating research findings to peers and policy audiences, the way southern research is perceived and demanded are amongst the key challenges southern researchers face when informing policy. Besides, publishing in international journals is often harder for them due to their lack of access to the latest research necessary for referencing. It goes without saying that Southern research institutes may lack the communications capacity and budgets required to ensure effective research communication, compared to their equivalents in the North. GDNet’s own survey data also points to the dominance of northern academic practices making it harder for southern research to be seen on an equal footing.

In an attempt to highlight the challenges that southern researchers face and focus on solutions and ideas that help the development community to Connect South and ensure a more effective research uptake, we have been conducting a series of interviews with southern researchers who took part of GDNet Research Communications Capacity Building events.

At the latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Workshop which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, and as part of building the researchers’ capacity in research communications; we had the opportunity to hear from some of the participants about the challenges they face in their respective countries when trying to get their voices heard.

The following came out as significant challenges in different African countries:

  • Lack of interest expressed by policymakers in what academics produce on economic and social development
  • Crafting effective and simplified messages exempted of jargon and terminologies
  • Getting research published in reputable academic journals and newspapers
  • Lack of understanding of the value research has
  • Existing gender bias aspect in the development community (perception of research produced by women in some African countries)
  • Motivating media practitioners to listen to researchers and pitching stories out of academic research
  • Establishing a dialogue between academic researchers, decision makers and communication practitioners
  • Lack of accuracy of media practitioners when publishing research findings

Watch highlights from different interviews (English)

Watch highlights from different interviews (French)

This blog is part of a series of blogs on research communications challenges faced in the global south.

If you want to hear more from southern researchers, watch the following interviews:

Why do researchers struggle to communicate their research for evidence-based policymaking?

The challenges facing southern researchers in the Arab world

Good research hidden behind walls of subscriptions

Financement : Défi majeur de la recherche sur le développement

Why do researchers struggle to communicate their research for evidence-based policymaking?

A lot of research is being carried out on economic and social development; with the intention of helping policymakers understand the challenges in development and produce better policies; but not much have achieved that objective. There are different reasons why solid research fails often to be looked at or acted on, among which poor and ineffective communication of research to target audience.

Generally speaking, the goal of any research is to have an impact. Researchers intend to communicate their results either to policymakers to make an impact on the decisions taken, or to donors to secure funding for their research.

And you, what about your goal? If your goal is to have an impact, communicating your research results and proving that your research is of good quality should become your priority → Convince to win!

While some researchers fail to reach their audience from the very beginning, others fail to convince when they get to the right policymaker. But why does this actually happen?

At the latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Workshop and as part of building the researchers’ capacity in communicating their research effectively, we had the opportunity to interview some of the participants about the challenges they face when communicating their research to policymakers and why they fail sometimes, if not often, to get their voices and research findings heard.

The difficulty of getting into the policy arena and establishing contact with policymakers; crafting concise and compelling messages out of a complex and detailed research; lack of coordination between policymakers and researchers; understanding the decision-making process; all of the above came out as significant challenges, among others.

Watch highlights from different interviews

Are you a French speaker? Watch interviews with francophone researchers

Interested to learn more about the challenges faced by researchers to communicate their research? Check out talking heads from previous GDNet workshops

What makes News?


What does news mean?  Is it a word of mouth? Broadcasting recent or current events?  What is newsworthy in our lives?

A pool of questions that is everlasting. News has been so important lately in the sense that communicating “news” has rendered infinite number of tools. Online news, media, newspapers, social media, networking and even word of mouth are all interconnected factors that affect “news”.

“Communicating news”, is again an important aspect. What are the tools to successfully communicate news? How to make sure that news have reached the targeted audience? In Africa, broadcasting news and reaching the audience is a concern.

There is a fact that in Africa; “Many people prefer to talk not write” (from BBC Africa, Have your say). For researchers this is a serious alarm. Researchers in Africa rely mainly on writing down their thoughts, their researches, and their projects which is not easy at all to have their works exposed.

The workshop’s core topic in day 2 focused mainly on such a significant subject. What would it take to write a “catchy” story in view of the “teller’s perceptive” to be accountable for publishing through an “editors’ eye”.

Nyasha  Musandu, CommsConsult

Nyasha Musandu, CommsConsult

However, it has to be taken into consideration to choose the “right communications tool”, the “targeted audience”, and their locations; “be that rural or urban” and the tool they mainly rely on. Nyasaha Musandu presented “communication landscapes” explaining such concerns and stating facts affecting Africa. Internet usage in Africa is still very limited, in 2010, only 10% of Ghanaians had internet in their homes, while Kenya recorded 5%!

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For Africa’s health, economic growth and poverty reduction welfare

Africa is a wonderful, beautiful, exciting continent and offers amazing experiences and adventures. However, these experiences are often slowed down by health issues along with concerns of economic growth and poverty.

As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow in the continent, so do the numbers of people fall through the cracks finding themselves homeless, and neglected.

AERC in partnership with GDNet and CommsConsult arranged a two days workshop in Kenya. The workshop focused mainly on approaches that researchers would undertake in order to better communicate research to their target audience to maximize uptake and impact.

GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Training Workshop

GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Training Workshop

Researchers hailed from almost all over the “Motherland” African continent countries. Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Burkinafaso, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Uganda, Benin, Malawi, Sierra Leone and of course Kenya; the host country along with Egypt represented by me and my dear travel mate and colleague Ms. Zeinab Sabet.

Day 1 started with a brief intro and a warm welcome from AERC representatives; Prof. Damiano Manda and Dr. Innocent Matshe. “Communications is one of the most overlooked things in your lives”, Dr. Matshe expressed his concern for such a fact. He stressed that “communicating” is generally ignored and for a successful approach to culminate, communicating must be implemented.

For AERC, poverty is one of the main objectives to study. As health is very much affected by poverty, it is again a topic that should be clearly discussed. In doing so, workshop participants are encouraged to raise their concerns they encounter in their receptive researches to shed more light on such challenges that would serve the cause.

Mrs. Megan Lloyd Laney; CommsConsult Director and workshop facilitator took over to declare the opening session and commencement for Day 1 activities. Mrs. Megan stressed on the workshop’s main focal objectives. Objectives included how to increase the understanding of communications with targeted audience, build capacity and skills of researchers and produce a concise “policy brief” for each research project.

Megan Lloyd-Laney, CommsConsult

Megan Lloyd-Laney, CommsConsult

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