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:

Dos:

  • 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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How to win an online and offline audience

The second day of the Awards and Medals Training Workshop covered more ground in terms of the do’s and don’ts of presentations and how to effectively handle and win your audience. Starting with a brief Q&A session, Megan Lloyd Laney (CommsConsult) discussed how to deal with contentious questions, and effectively address them, and win the crowd in the process.

Pearls of wisdom were also handed out, such as not getting defensive or aggressive, and admitting when not knowing how to do something. It’s also never a bad idea to crack a few jokes and get your audience laughing. Some final thoughts reiterated the importance of taking deep breaths, having confidence in the subject matter, your ability to deliver, and just being sincere; as surefire ways to captivate your audience.

The second highlight of the day, led by Pier Andrea Pirani (Euforic Services), was a session devoted to social media tools for researchers and how and why to use them. It started with a fun, hands-on activity involving a human spectrogram where finalists were asked three questions, relating to their attitudes towards social media, and how beneficial they believe it is in terms of their research, and making it travel.

Having fun during social media session

Needless to say, responses were varied, with some believing in the efficacy of social media as a powerful way to communicate to a wide audience, and others seeing it as a cumbersome, at times useless approach to spreading the message. The session was fun, informative, and helped shed light on the options available to researchers. The choice to use or not to use the tools, remains theirs.