The Impact Initiative, together with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the Research and Policy in Development programme at the Overseas Development Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, brought researchers, practitioners and policymakers together in March 2017 for a research symposium to discuss the question: "If evidence really matters what can we do about it?"
We interviewed four development professionals, Katherine Brickell, Rob Cartridge, Zoe Marks and Danielle Doughman, and asked them to talk about their experience of using evidence to influence development policy and/or practice in their work. Their experiences were varied but common messages ran through:
- Good quality evidence is built over time
- Evidence provides the entry point for negotiations
- The timing of evidence is crucial for policy change
- How and by whom evidence is presented effects its credibility
- Evidence is most effective when it is context specific, appropriate and demand-led.
Professor Katherine Brickell, Royal Holloway, University of London
In her interview Katherine highlights that a central part of her research in Cambodia (funded by the ESRC DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation between 2012-15), involved collecting testimonials from women survivors of Domestic Violence (DV). This part of the process was integral in assessing the implementation and enforcement of Cambodia’s first ever DV law.
The testimonials were then key to her next project (funded by the Foreign Office) where she set up an innovative short course with undergraduate law students, from one of the Universities in Phnom Penh, and also brought in high-level policymakers to play an important role. The course involved a month of training in DV law followed by ‘client consultation competitions’ in which teams of students competed against each other showing their counselling skills, where they would try and advise the legal options available for the women in the DV testimonials.
As Katherine explains, ‘the cases were drawn from the testimonials of victims that ordinarily wouldn’t reach such a space – be it a law court or an auditorium – in which the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs watched and gave prizes, and the deputy British Ambassador in Cambodia was also involved.’
This approach created a unique platform to work collaboratively with policymakers in terms of the training and judging of the students work. It also provided the opportunity to have conversations that Katherine would not have ordinarily been able to have with high-level decision makers around sensitive issues.
Rob Cartridge, Practical Action
Rob shares his experience of using evidence in relation to his work supporting the use of appropriate technologies, often at local community level. He makes the point that, ‘Evidence is most effective if it is requested by the communities we work with. So it is demand-led.’ With this approach the researcher’s role is to: ‘tease out people’s latent knowledge needs’. Following on from this, the evidence gathered needs to be context specific, appropriate, and importantly it needs to be presented back to the community by someone who is trusted and credible.
Zoe Marks, University of Edinburgh
Zoe talks about the tensions that can arise between different actors’ evidence requirements, especially in terms of the type of evidence and the timing of it.
She reflects on an experience when she was working with a government official who required evidence to promote the value of greater gender equality and inclusion in peace agreements. In this instance the government official required strong persuasive messages from the research which showed that gender equality works in creating positive change. However, Zoe explains that from her researchers’ perspective:
‘[Gender inclusion] does [work] but it’s complicated and it depends on the context […] so we’re both on the same page in terms of wanting women to be included because inclusive agreements are actually more durable, they’re more effective […] but the type of evidence that a policymaker needs in order to make these claims, and the type of evidence we’re able to produce at this stage is often in tension.’
Zoe suggests that there needs to be understanding and negotiation between the researcher and policymaker around their differing needs and challenges. Policymakers need to consider the time it takes researchers to produce good, credible evidence from research (often involving iterations of work) and researchers need to be aware of the policymaker’s need to access hard-hitting evidence at strategic moments in time. Zoe states, ‘You know good nuanced research is fantastic but sometimes you need a statistic to get through the door.’
Danielle Doughman, African Population Health Research Centre (APHRC)
Danielle talks about APHRC’s work in supporting the two African leaders (and their committee members and delegations) who sit on the Global Fund Board for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to process and analyse as much diverse evidence as possible before the critical Global Fund biannual meetings.
Through the policy analysis and supportive research that the APHRC has conducted over time they have improved the ‘robust participation’ of African leaders to the Global Fund Board. Danielle states that that this work has, ‘enabled [the African leaders] to rise to a higher level of participation and considering that 60 per cent of Global Fund resources flow to Africa – Africa absolutely has a responsibility and obligation to make sure they are full participants in deciding how resources are used in their countries.’