Policy impact: 10 key considerations

Purpose: These ten considerations aim to help researchers who address important policy problems understand the complexities of influencing policy and how to become more effective in turning good evidence into policy action.

Description: Ten key things that researchers need to think about when they want their research to influence policy are:

  1. Know what you want to influence: What change do you hope your research findings will bring about? Is it in legislation or policy? Is it greater investment, different practice or changed perceptions? Or is it something else?
  1. Know who you want to influence: First identify who has the power to bring about the change you want to see. Then identify who can influence these change agents. Figure out how you can get to these influencers, who may be people or organisations. Figure out how to build the necessary relationships and whether you are the best messenger.
  1. Know when to influence: When are your research results most likely to have impact? “For example, this could be in the leadup to an election, during a budget cycle, as part of a government consultation, ahead of an international decision-making summit, or at a key meeting.” Be alert to unexpected opportunities and take advantage of them – fast!
  1. Build relationships and networks: Identify other people and organisations who share your goals in influencing policy and work with them to develop a joint plan.
  1. Policy development is not a linear process: “It is tempting to think that policy processes are linear: you identify a problem, gather evidence and implement a policy. But they aren’t. Policy-making is complex, dynamic and involves a lot of different people and moving parts. Nonetheless, policy formulation does have its own formal and informal rhythms. If you understand these, you’ll know where your evidence will be most useful and have greatest impact.”
  1. Policy-making is inherently political: Policy-makers are not just influenced by your research findings. Their political experience and expertise also come into play, along with their own values. You may find your research used in ways you had not intended and you need to decide how you will respond.
  1. Plan your engagement: Your research is more likely to come to the attention of policy-makers if there are:
    1. A short, sharp executive summary or policy brief
    2. Clear messages
    3. No technical language
    4. Infographics
    5. Other activities, “such as press releases, public events, bilateral meetings, presentations or side events at summits and conferences.”
  1. Focus on ideas and be propositional: Rather than focusing on the problem, use your research findings to tell policy-makers “what should happen, who could take action, when and how. It’s also important to frame your recommendations within the realms of what is possible, both technically and politically. Be ambitious, but realistic.”
  1. It takes time, stick at it: “Influencing policy takes time and commitment.” It is “usually a marathon not a sprint.” In addition, “be sure to set milestones and capture the small successes as you go. Continue to engage with your target audience and always keep up-to-date on the decision-making process.”
  1. Monitor, learn and adjust along the way: Seek feedback and figure out how to respond, as well as adapt to new contexts and opportunities. “Continuously review, and capture your learning as you go so you can apply it to future influencing plans. And, be willing to share your learning with key partners.”

Source: Draws on over 15 years of work by the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) team at the UK Overseas Development Institute to understand how to foster sustainable policy change. 

Reference: Tilley, H., Shaxson, L., Rea, J., Ball, L. and Young, J. (2017). 10 things to know about how to influence policy with research. Overseas Development Institute: London, UK. Online: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/11205.pdf (PDF 128KB)

Website: https://www.odi.org/publications/10671-10-things-know-about-how-influence-policy-research

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Posted: February 2019
Last modified: February 2019