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Project Summary (available in pdf [76kb])


The project seeks to identify and institutionalise innovative research and development mechanisms and approaches that lead to pro-poor policy outcomes. A series of case studies focusing on specific areas of policy change and in some cases specific projects including in their objectives impacts at policy level, will be carried out with emphasis on Eastern Africa. A major focus will be on identifying how policymakers source information that contributes to the policy process as well as the roles of research vis-à-vis non research actors and on communications between them. The case studies will provide a framework for the institutions involved to learn and adopt new ways of working to achieve their goals.

The problem and rationale

As the development community increases pressure for researchers to demonstrate impact at levels from field production to national and international policies, scientists and their partners are beginning to recognise the need to work together in new ways. An extended research paradigm is now being advocated where institutional and technological innovations are the result of interaction among different actors with complementary contributions (Röling, 1996) and become a continuous learning process involving all actors, including biological and social scientists (Engel and van den Bor, 1995). The number and the quality of the links and communication between individuals and organizations that are ‘seeking’ to innovate is a key element in the rate of innovation. The DFID research funding framework for 2005-7 highlights the importance of getting research to users and of non-linear approaches to achieve policy impact (DFID, 2004). The paper also recommends development of common understandings and good links between researchers and other actors. Similarly, Leonard (2004) emphasises the importance of constructing a sound basis of knowledge and analysis of the actual conditions of poor livestock producers to inform local and international organisations that can advocate on their behalf. He also argues that in order to advance the interests of the poor it is important to work with the dominant forces of change, rather than against them and to be opportunistic, recognising and acting fast when opportunities for change occur. Consequently, the institutionalisation of approaches that allow research and development organisations to create a learning environment that fosters new ideas and ways of partnering, is imperative. To develop new approaches and to mainstream these within organisations, an understanding of how policy decisions are made and the role of research and other information in these processes is crucial. However, assessing the impact of research on policy is an underdeveloped research area. Attribution, is particularly complex because research-based evidence is only one of a range of factors influencing changes in policy or practice. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) uses a historical analytical approach, which tracks back from a policy change episode to identify the key moments at which decisions were made combined with an analysis of the political context, to elucidate what role and influence research had vis a vis other sources of information on policy decisions. This method tends to under-estimate the impact of research compared to methods used by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which track forward from a given piece of research and tend to over estimate the role of research (personal communication, John Young). The International Research Development Centre (IDRC) has developed a third approach, called Outcome Mapping, which focuses on identifying desired changes in behaviour (of policy makers and practitioners) at the start of a research programme, and continuously tracking both the impact of the programme on those behaviours, and any changes the programme makes during implementation, and the reasons why. Ideally a combination of approaches is required.

Justification and outputs

The current project responds to the need to better understand the processes and mechanisms that lead to pro-poor decisions at policy level, and aims to provide recommendations to improve the impact of ILRI’s and its partners work. Although there are reports of examples of successful partnerships using approaches where research is claimed to play a key role in tangible impact on development and policy these are often cases involving isolated individuals rather than arising as part of a change in institutional culture and buy-in to those approaches. There continues to be considerable debate about the contribution of research to political and institutional change and how innovation in partnership and process could improve this performance. The project will thus analyse and document the information, communication, partnerships, processes and other factors that influence the decisions of policymakers through a number of case studies, combined with an analysis of some of the key elements leading to success and failure of specific projects. In order to move towards institutionalisation of new approaches it is important that the study allows opportunities for input from a broad range of stakeholders in the target organisations, including key decision makers. National and regional workshops will be used to engage with as many of those involved as possible and an open website constructed to facilitate exchanges during the process. In this way analysis will be conducted in an open manner to develop frameworks which assist research and development partners to develop new proposals.

Consequently, the project aims to achieve the following outputs:

  • A validated methodology to evaluate the influence and role of research and other information on policy decisions and change
  • Identification of innovative research and development approaches that lead to pro-poor policy outcomes.
  • A framework (principles and processes) to guide development of new research and development projects
  • Commitments from ILRI, NARS and partner institutions to move towards mainstreaming and institutionalisation of the identified approaches.

The outputs will be supported by a range of printed and web-based materials such as:

  • A moderated web-based platform to facilitate sharing information between a broad network of research and non-research players.
  • A series of ODI style working and briefing papers
  • A range of specific information resources for different audiences which might include policy briefs, a summary brochure/booklet, practical tools and/or a set of guiding principles that recognise that there is no single solution to structuring the research process but that projects evolve and a range of possible approaches are selected and adapted
  • An on-line version capturing the detail of the case study findings including episode studies, results of interviews seminars and workshops together with final lessons and recommendations.