Slow science, fast policy
Monitoring knowledge, skills, attitude, or practice changes in meetings and training events where researchers and policy makers interact directly provides useful insights for project management. This practice creates a systematized reflection into what has been done and what should be eyed for potential issues or unexpected positive or negative results.
In one of the projects led by CIAT in CCAFS, the RBM Trial*, this monitoring is done through a simple template that collects information on objectives, key decisions, challenges and other issues relevant when meeting with policy makers.
Perhaps however, the most interesting bit comes from the challenges highlighted by researchers in the tool.
A key issue for researchers to influence the policy-making process (and probably any decision-making process in general) is to build relationships based on trust. This is a key factor for the success of these initiatives, which can sometimes collide with the temporary nature of policy-makers’ posts and the frequent changes in key focal points in Ministries and government agencies. Some of the activities in the RBM Trial have therefore devoted time in planning the development of their actions collaboratively with their counterparts in the Ministries, however at least two of them had to confront changes in these focal points, which means taking the time to build this trust again.
Constant follow up and providing timely information when requested, or even simply providing scientific results at the right moment, when it is most relevant to support the decisions of policy makers is a win-win strategy. The challenge then is to transform the continuous support of some researchers in concrete commitments from next users to get involved in implementing the activities. Communication and links between different government units or agencies can also be a challenge that reduces the potential impact of research provided to these users. One has to invest time in finding out who are the key contact people that can provide relevant information and incentives for them to share it. Direct communication by phone call or visit seems to be more effective then more indirect communications, when feasible.
Finally, ‘slow nature’ of science is a particular challenge: policy-makers have urgency to obtain data and results useful to support their decision-making or their lobbying for specific themes, but the creation of these data and results in a scientifically-sound way contrasts with this urgency. Providing methods and results that are updated and tailored to the next users’ needs appears to be an important strategy to keep up with political timing, but again the creation of this type of tools is often a slow paced scientific process.
Bottom line is, when working directly with policy makers, monitoring during project implementation is an important tool to learn and adapt to changes in the ever evolving political landscape, but the biggest challenge for researchers feeding information to policy makers is providing solid and rigorous science (to build trust) in a timely manner (to address urgency).
* In the CIAT-CCAFS Results Based Management Trial project, implementation involves frequent meetings, workshops, courses and other types of direct interaction with policy-makers. This creates a wealth of information and insights that can be systematized to understand results and challenges of such close interaction. After one year of project implementation, training events and presentations of methods and research outputs have increased capacities of technicians and key people from the different Ministries of Agriculture and Environment that the activities are targeting, but also fostered inter-institutional cooperation. Decision-makers are showing increasingly positive attitudes towards themes such as the definition of NAMAs, deforestation and climate resilient agricultural practices. A validation study linked to two activities of the RBM Trial can be found here.