This paper has two objectives. The first is to discuss the experience of carrying out research in a village in Mali as part of a multi-country, comparative research programme on the theme of Sustainable Livelihoods. The second is to place that field-level experience in the broader context of the relationship between research and policy, particularly in terms of the exchange and flow of information between different stakeholders in the development policy process.
The process of using the Sustainable Livelihoods framework for planning and implementing an enquiry, and analysing the information this generated, raised a range of questions. On one hand, there were methodological lessons and practical issues: what is the best way to represent complexity? How can the multiple views of different actor groups be incorporated into such a representation? How can such a learning process be effectively managed within the boundaries of available resources?
On the other, there were more abstract considerations: what, and who, is this research for? How could this process of research best be transformed into something which usefully serves the needs of the poor, or supports environmentally sustainable practices?
These reflections on how a particular piece of research was carried out resonated with some of the current debates about methodological complimentarity, incorporating the needs and perceptions of the poor into anti-poverty policies, and the centrality of institutions, both to livelihoods and policymaking. There is in turn a common thread in many of these debates: how to best occupy the space between top-down and bottom-up, between macro and micro. The framework for research and analysis described here provided opportunities to bridge this gap.