Research Entering the Policy Domain

Carl-Gustav Lindén

The research project ReCom-Research and Communication on foreign aid, which is co-ordinated by UNU-WIDER with funding from the development agencies Danida and Sida, is now midway through its life. There is already a wide array of research produced and available to help aid policy and practice. As the complexity of aid projects and programmes increases so the importance of evidence from sound research becomes more important for sound aid policies.

ReCom is a new way of using the resources of UNU-WIDER's vast research network, and one that requires considerable innovation. Asking researchers from any discipline about the policy implications of their research—and helping them effectively communicate their findings—brings us into a professional dimension where not everyone is entirely comfortable.

As someone who has been involved in communications research I know this from personal experience; moving outside the trusted community of peers involves risks. But it also brings with it great opportunities.

Policy audiences such as advocacy groups, politicians, think tanks and community groups offer considerable scope for dissemination, but this dissemination needs to be done well. Communicating results to the relevant policy makers demands a different mindset than writing research abstracts. This is especially difficult for academic researchers who respect their own and others’ specialization and professionalism, and might often see that policy prescriptions or advocacy are not in line with their sophisticated and complex research. Researchers aim to present evidence and facts, but are hesitant to promote any practical advice on complicated issues since that is not perceived to be part of their expertise. Still, we need to ensure that important research results enter the policy domain. Most people in academia understand that international peer-reviewed journals and books are not the most efficient tool for this since the policy audience have too little time to read academic papers, nor does it have the requisite technical knowledge. It is essential to understand this nature of policy-making when communicating results.

Therefore, ReCom is producing and presenting research of the highest academic standard focused on issues that are relevant both to people who design development policies, as well as those who are involved in actually making these plans work. Our aim is to make the findings much more accessible than what is usually the case in research.

ReCom researchers focus on key questions such as what works and what could work better in development assistance—including the potential to scale-up small but successful interventions into larger aid programmes, and transfer aid programmes across countries. Considering the billions of euros that have been spent on development assistance, and the heated debate over its impact, these are very necessary questions.

Results are freely accessible on our website and discussed in results meetings, where there is an opportunity to engage in the conversation on foreign aid and its impact. We have one results meeting, ‘Jobs–Aid at Work’, coming up in Copenhagen on 8th October 2012, which will focus on foreign aid and employment (here:

Jobs are of course a major area of interest, since the impact of unemployment is felt right across society and across countries. The problem in most developing countries is not being unemployed, it is being in work but still being poor. For every person in the world who is unemployed, there are 4.5 who work but are still poor. Altogether there are three billion poor people who, despite having jobs, are not able to escape poverty.

In addition to this, more than 70 per cent of the people living in absolute poverty in the world are in middle-income countries, not low-income countries. The starting point for development policy, therefore, cannot automatically be poor countries, although they do have the least resources to address the problem.

These are some of the insights that Gary S. Fields (Cornell University) will share in the discussion around policy options regarding development aid and employment at the Copenhagen results meeting (his new UNU-WIDER working paper ‘Aid, Growth, and Jobs’ is forthcoming shortly; also look for his book Working Hard, Working Poor, published in 2011). His main message is that we desperately need more research on how labour markets in developing countries actually work to be able to better design policy interventions. This is also one example of how researchers and policy makers need to find common ground. There will be a lot more on jobs from Gary Fields and others, including the 2013 World Development Report director Martin Rama, in the intensive discussions at our meeting.

The key questions that will be discussed are: does aid create jobs?  When and how do these jobs work? Are they sustainable? Do they promote development?

Registration is now open here so please join us either at the venue or through the webcast. You can also view the events afterwards as they will be posted on the UNU-WIDER events page. We also look forward to a number of results meetings on the other four themes in the ReCom project and will let you know when they come up. These meetings are a major new way in which research and policy can better interact. Engagement in this way will create new pathways for aid policy.

One more thing: during the last few days I have attended the Open Knowledge Festival here in Helsinki where the concept of open development has been discussed. I must say that Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) could not have spent their money better. The panel discussion on how we should conceptualize open development expressed the whole variety of views held on openness. One example: what do you do with open data when a large part of the population cannot read or write? And as one commentator said; if development aid would be really open it should start with a brainstorming session in the village of the people concerned, agreeing on priorities by drawing pictures and symbols on the ground. There was a strong sentiment that openness without inclusion is not good enough.

I also enjoyed the workshops on how development data can be produced, verified and distributed. I am also sure that UNU-WIDER could add something to the open data movement since our vast research has been openly accessible from the very beginning. We are in the process of rebuilding our website to make our publications and data easier to find and use—we warmly welcome your advice on this.

Carl-Gustav Lindén is Senior Communications Specialist at UNU-WIDER.
Carl-Gustav Lindén is
Senior Communications
Specialist at UNU-WIDER.


WIDERAngle newsletter
September 2012
ISSN 1238-9544