Lesson #1: Use diverse strategies to enable local knowledge production
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Spaces for engagement started with a deep conviction on the need to encourage local production of relevant knowledge on the link between research and policy. In fact, when the programme started most of the knowledge on the link between research and policy had been produced by Northern researchers and organisations (individuals and institutions based in developed countries), especially in the UK and USA. This implied that existing research was partially useful to developing countries´ contexts, mainly because the general framework to analyze the link between research and policy emerged from a Northern way of conceptualizing and organizing these issues. It was very valuable input, but we needed to complement it with local research, led and produced in the South.
Thus, from its inception we considered that supporting Latin American researchers to produce new knowledge was key to understand and tackle the main challenges in terms of promoting the use of research in policymaking in Latin America and regions facing similar problems and challenges.
The results were good: we can share today a quite interesting list of papers, guides, and handbooks produced by Latin American authors. Some have been very useful for capacity building activities and there is still large room for these resources to get better known and used.
Even though the programme has found many advantages in producing local knowledge, we have also encountered several challenges in this direction. Our strategy was in general to launch open calls for the production of papers and case studies assuming that by this mechanism we would be able to detect new or nurture talented researchers interested in producing knowledge in this relatively new field.
However, we had very different results in terms of quality, relevance and consequent value of produced research.
When recurring to well-known researchers with high reputation in research on policy and politics, in general the results were very satisfying. However, most of them have not continued to do research on these specific topics and took the work as an ad hoc opportunity of funding. Very few of them have continued to be engaged in the field; for these one of the main drivers to produce knowledge on related topics has been the practical approach provided by the programme. This has allowed experienced academic researchers to learn from those who are “in the kitchen”, people who stand in the action end and that can really apply and use knowledge in their practice.
On the other hand, working with less experienced researchers has frequently implied that we had to invest additional time and resources (and in one case we even had cancel the contract for not meeting the minimum requirements) to pre-detect potential problems, ensure consistent focus on the main questions, etc. We also had to work hard to polish language (so that researchers of every Latin American country could understand it due to variations in Spanish) and to avoid that the publications became too academic, so that different profiles and audiences could use it.
In consequence, we know now that if you are planning to develop a new cohort of researchers in emerging topics, it is advisable that you:
Ensure you have enough time, skills and resources to provide continuous coaching and quality supervision
Select young people that are genuinely committed to the academic track and that can be endorsed and/or supported by a senior researcher (universities are the ideal setting for this to happen)
Avoid using open and wide calls in the hope of receiving proposals from untapped talents. These calls require a lot of time in answering questions and emails, processing proposals that are not aligned with the TORs, and have not yielded the expected results.
Prioritize individuals who are focused on public policies and politics in general instead of vertical topics such as childhood or climate change since the latter will tend to seek for knowledge about the policy topics more than how research can inform the policy process
Partner with existing and recognized organisations and initiatives so as to build on their existing networks and knowledge of experts on this field. It is better to enter into existing and ongoing spaces than creating new ones.
Do you have any other experiences/thoughts/ideas on how to enhance local production of knowledge?