The Policy Practice at the DSA conference
The Policy Practice’s Olly Owen and Laure-Hélène Piron convened a free session for early-career and global south researchers on ‘demystifying writing for policy audiences’ at the online Development Studies Association conference 2020 in June, with a valuable contribution from David Tumwesigye (Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development). Since researchers are increasingly judged on policy impact, we wanted to provide a realistic and truthful guide to how this actually happens. So we covered not only writing and presentation, but awareness of how non-linear the policy world’s relationship to research often is, and how to be both effective and opportunistic. We also pushed to broaden out concepts of policy relevance, beyond just research which proposes new policies or evaluates existing programmes, towards more conceptual and critical research which helps us usefully reflect on development practice and its assumptions. One of the silver linings of so many events having to move online this year has been an acceleration of ways to use digital technology to bridge north-south access divides, and our session saw around 20 researchers based in countries as diverse as Norway and Bangladesh, and from backgrounds ranging from NGO professionals, to research managers, to PhD students, participate and discuss the realities of communicating to policy audiences.
One of the ways to make academic researchers think more about policy relevance is to reconceptualise how that relationship might work. We are used to thinking about policy analysis, as a best-choice comparison of various policies for the purposes of choosing the most suitable, and policy evaluation research which determines the impacts, intended and unintended, of particular interventions. But we also broadened the category of policy-relevant to include what we called 'propositional' research, which highlights the potential applications of research discoveries to policy. And we also took in the opposite approach, critical research which looks at how policy changes in implementation, what wider effects or relationships it forms, how does it generate meaning and social effect, and which encompasses questioning of the broader motives and purpose. With this framework we aim to prompt scholars and practitioners to think through each others' outputs and interact more productively and creatively.