Lesson #2: Build your research agenda with potential users of knowledge
This reflection is part of the 20 lessons included in the paper Lessons learned on promoting better links between research and policy in Latin America
As our programme Spaces for Engagement made progress towards our aim to support local production of knowledge on the link between research and policy in Latin America, we began to understand the importance of engaging potential users of this knowledge. If we could have good and productive dialogues with them and understand their needs and priorities, we would be able to build a bridge between new theoretical production and real practice in this field.
We started to commission the first round of research by using traditional methods in selecting issues, authors and processes, mostly along the mainstream lines of discussion in spaces related to the link between research and policy. We then decided to present and discuss this first batch of research within face to face interactions, both in capacity building and networking events and spaces. This became a very effective way to design a relevant and promising research agenda: conclusions and reflections from the first set of case studies and papers were intensely discussed throughout an important regional conference in which Executive Directors of leading think tanks in Latin America participated. Using this space as a platform to detect emerging topics that were of interest and useful for them we were able to then identify more concrete aspects and sub-topics to be addressed in future research as well as in capacity development activities.
This strategy was applied again and again when producing research. We translated papers, case studies, handbooks, etc. into shorter presentations in different events, sessions in workshops, modules in online courses, etc. By converting traditional research formats into concrete and brief interventions in networking and capacity building activities we were also able to refine arguments and key messages, detect specific and new examples for our main conclusions, identify concerns and interests in the near future, etc.
Thus, participation and continuous feedback from potential users allowed us to have a research agenda that guided the generation of new action-oriented and cutting edge knowledge including how policy research institutes (PRIs) are currently operating and their main challenges in terms of incorporating evidence into policymaking processes.
Spaces where knowledge is presented and discussed in a live manner enable the permanent detection of critical conceptual and practical challenges faced by policy research institutes when trying to generate research that is relevant and useful for policy. They also lead to a regional perspective in the provision of conclusions and recommendations in terms of advancing in these fields to improve the impact of research in public policies.
For example, the Regional Conference in 2009 shed light into the broad field of future work that could be addressed by the programme in Latin America: interaction and consultations revealed that there was a recognized need to contribute to the institutional strengthening of policy research institutions in areas such as communications, knowledge management, assessment of policy influence capacity, monitoring and evaluation of influence, and fundraising models, among others. As a consequence, in 2012 CIPPEC launched open calls for the production of two papers on knowledge management (KM) and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of policy influence. These papers provided a basis to develop a handbook that linked the two topics (Learners, practitioners and teachers: Handbook on monitoring, evaluating and managing knowledge for policy influence) while providing practical tools and methodologies to strengthen these practices; and later SFE launched an online course on how to monitor and evaluate policy influence. We trained 66 participants throughout 4 editions of this course, and CIPPEC was also asked to provide technical assistance to develop M&E systems and products by organisations like Save the Children UK.