Research Policy Praxis – Information Ecosystems (Phase 1)
IDS has for many years been working as an information intermediary (or “infomediary”) to promote and strengthen the connections between Research and Policy Practice.
“IDS exists to bring new analysis to the global development issues that preoccupy practitioners and policymakers today, and will occupy them tomorrow.” says Director, Lawrence Haddad
IDS hosts a number of research programmes that generate new knowledge that aims to be original, relevant and excellent. IDS also provide online services and publications that liberate existing research and make it useful to decision makers and students.
Access to research: ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’
In its new programme of work, “Mobilising Knowledge for Development” MK4D, it has hypothesised that this Research Policy Praxis can best be supported by strengthening other infomediaries. Policy is contextual, influencing policy formation depends a lot on contributing to windows of opportunity as and when they appear, it depends on actor networks and on moments of discussion.
Our hypothesis is that we can best contribute to policy and practice formation, by ensuring that local infomediaries are engaging in the policy and practice debates, and ensuring that research is available and accessible in a digestible format ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’.
Role of ICTs in a changing information ecosystem
In order to strengthen local infomediaries, we need to better understand the local context. While policymaking is strongly influenced by politics, power, actor networks, etc., we have identified that as a result of an increasing role of ICT nationally and internationally, policymakers information ecosystem is changing and will have a bearing on their exposure to information. Whether exposure to new technologies and the services they introduce includes evidence-based information will depend on researchers and intermediaries intentionally engaging with the decision makers information ecosystem.
Three ideas have converged to bring about this research.
- Information ecosystems are changing the world over. The rapid changes in Information and Communication Technology are well known and we do not need to describe them here. And they continue to evolve. While the uptake of mobile telephones is well known, there is now the emergence of the smartphone. While the poor may not migrate to smart phones for a few more years, it is more than likely that policy makers have already migrated. What impact does this have on their access to information?.
- There are many studies that monitor the changing information ecosystem generally (i.e. for the general population). IDRC funded Research ICT Africa undertakes a regular survey on peoples use of ICT, and publishes the policy implications. Similarly activities are to be found in South America (DIRSI) and Asia (Lirne). While there are other studies too however there seems to be an absence of research that specifically monitors and tracks the information ecosystem of the population subset “Policy actors”.
- There are studies that attempt to track specific policy moments, resulting in case studies, and there are studies which seek to identify the specific use of research evidence in policy making but within both those sets of research there does not seem to be a body of work which puts the findings into a context of the information ecosystem of policy makers. IDS itself conducted some light studies back in 2004, but the world has moved on since then (see first point).
Bringing these ideas together, we envisage a series of work that attempts to document the information ecosystem of decision makers, identifying where they get information and what channels they use and trust. We hope this will add data to the hypothesis that information ecosystems are changing, and enable infomediaries to determine how best to position themselves within that ecosystem.
This figure is a preliminary output of an incomplete study – not to be quoted.
There are three key action research questions:
- What is the current information ecosystem of actors engaged in the Research Policy Praxis
- What are the possibilities that there will be a behaviour change towards the new services available through the newer wireless ICT
- Can researchers and/or research intermediaries use the existing and/or the aniticipated ecosystem to better place research based evidence that might inform policy actors
Question 1 is an investigation of the current behaviour, seeking to find current pathways or channels of influence. It is a view of the current landscape or ecosystem, in order to identify opportunities. For instance, a brief pre-pilot test of the survey, across a sample of 3, revealed that many Kenyan policy makers enjoy television chat shows in an evening. If this is substantiated by a more substantial survey, it would suggest that researchers and intermediaries engaging with the television producers to showcase their research and evidence might find a pathway or channel into the policy actors relatively passive information seeking experience.
Question 2 looks to the future. ICT changes rapidly, and to take a view on the current ecosystem, publish the results and have a significant set of research actors or intermediaries respond to the ideas, might take several years. In ICT terms there can be massive shifts in the ecosystem within 3 to 4 years (eg Facebook or iphones). Also while considering the near future, the above example of television chat shows is a relatively passive information behaviour, the research reflects on whether the new technologies offer an opportunity to change the behaviour.
The research will be built around a set of face to face interviews with actors in the Research Policy Praxis. (The interviews will include Researchers, Intermediaries and Policy Actors – and we acknowledge that some people can fall into more than one category!) The survey will take a view on their current information ecosystem. Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour, the second part of the survey investigates the attitude and social norms that inform the policy actors intention to actively use new channels of information, and to reflect on the drivers and barriers that might increase or prevent the willingness to use these channels for information.
We are currently in the middle of data collection for this study in six countries
- India (2 studies one in the North one in the South)
We hope to present preliminary results in August 2011.