This week research funders will be urged to take a new approach to engaging evidence with policy that values collaborations and learning. As the world continues to be gripped by a pandemic that has prompted renewed political commitment to “following the science” a report from the Impact Initiative for International Development Research finds that it often takes multiple research studies spanning geographies and disciplines to shift understanding and decision making.
Bringing together bodies of work for impact
As part of the Impact Initiative programme, the team, based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, piloted network-based mapping and meso-level research synthesis techniques, to identify synergies across a diverse portfolio of over 200 projects and frame research for live policy issues. This work demonstrated the multiple pathways and contributions of different research projects to social, policy and conceptual change.
The report argues that this synthesis work demonstrates the need to look across projects, not just within. The editors make the case for a new collectivised approach to brokering research for development which brings together and profiles multiple types of research and knowledge. James Georgalakis, co-director, Impact Initiative said:
“This approach shifts us from the ‘business as usual’ mindset – where individual projects and programmes seek to influence on their own terms. This learning report makes the case for something bigger; it argues that a collectivised approach across projects and programmes can bring together large bodies of work to have meaningful impact.”
Working in partnership
The Impact Initiative has been working for the past six years to connect policymakers and practitioners with social science research supported by the ESRC-FCDO Strategic Partnership.
The programme has worked to maximise the uptake and impact of research from the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme.
Pauline Rose, co-director, Impact Initiative explained why this approach is relevant:
“In the world we live in today, bringing together researchers and bodies of knowledge to shape debate and decision making has never felt more important. It is abundantly clear that drawing from one piece of evidence and or listening to one expert does not present a nuanced picture.”
From the outset, synergies were identified between projects focused on health systems, gender, education, disability, child poverty and social exclusion in 76 countries. Through multi-project collaborations, spanning geographies and research topics, the Impact Initiative has helped influence national policies, shape global coalitions, inform global policy discourse, and empower the voice of marginalised communities.
The report provides new approaches to mapping policy contexts and building networked relationships between researchers, civil society organisations and policy actors. It also offers guidance for practitioners on synthesising research for policy and producing impact stories. The report is being launched at a funder roundtable in which donors, including the FCDO, UKRI, IDRC and Mastercard, will be discussing how to enhance the impact of their research investments.