What are the principles of policy relevant research?
[Editor’s note: This post is the second of a series produced by Andrea Ordóñez and Leandro Echt from Politics & Ideas to share what we learned through the online course Doing policy relevant research, ran for the first time in the first quarter of 2016. The course was supported by the Think Tank Fund and the Think Tank Initiative.]
As we said in the first post of this series, our course is based on the premise that researchers and research institutions that do good research for policymaking have a set of unique skills that distinguish them from those that do purely academic work. They have specific and deliberate ways of linking with the world of policymaking.
While there are no clear cut recipes that will work for all those who want to conduct policy relevant research, we have gathered a set of principles for policy relevant research identified in existing literature and through practice, which will help researchers develop both the right mind-set and the practical skills for their work, and create an enabling environment for relevant research to flourish. Here are outlined the seven principles:
Embedded in policy context – Instead of talking about rules and standards for the policy relevant research, we will explore the options in relation to the context. This means that we are not inclined to think that one particular type of research is better, but what is important is to understand the choices we make given the context where we work.
Internally and externally validated – Relevant research needs to be meaningful within and outside the organization. Acquiring the perspective of others will strengthen both your research agenda, and each of your research projects. This course will propose different levels of engagement feasible for this validation that you can consider given your context and the characteristics of your think tank.
Responds to policy questions and objectives – Many times, it is believed that “research for policy” must be instrumental, that the key is having a slot of “policy recommendations”. But the reality is that policy problems are diverse and the expected contribution of research in each can be different. This course proposed a way of looking at policy problems and identifying your think tank´s potential contributions.
Fit for purpose and timely – Once you have identified the type of policy problem you face and the questions your research can answer, then can you start defining the methods that are more appropriate. This course proposes a pragmatic approach to research design based on the specific policy problem, the time you have and the capacities of your think tank (Module 5).
Crafted with an analytical and policy perspective – Policy relevant research goes beyond the obvious and beyond a narrative description of the situation. This course proposes how to use the existing research methods to make sound contributions to policy by linking policy problems with research design choices.
Open to change and innovation: as it interacts with policy spaces and policymakers – Innovating in research is critical for a think tank to maintain its relevance in the policy process. However, it is important to balance both the capacity to create new things, and to take advantage of the existing capacities of your think tank. This course will propose some tools to look into these choices of when and how to innovate.
Realistic about institutional capacity and funding opportunities – Finally, but not least important, a relevant research agenda is realistic. Although throughout the course you will explore possible innovations for your work, we will finish the course by discussing key management choices.
In order to support researchers and research organizations’ efforts in conducting policy relevant research, our course unpacks and distills these principles at two levels: at a strategic, conceptual level, and at a practical and personal level. Carrying out these seven principles is both a personal and institutional commitment. The tools and discussions in this course can help you at setting processes in your organization, but also having discussions with your researchers about their views and perspectives on policy relevant research and how to improve your think tanks influence.
[Editor’s note: Read other post of this series: