Context matters, context matters, context matters…haven´t we all heard and said that many, many times? I guess no one at this point would underestimate how large and fundamental context is when we think about interventions, projects and activities to promote a better interaction between research and policy. The weight and the energy of contextual factors are so huge that we are very well aware of how complex it is to clearly identify what we can do that can bring on concrete and visible results.
However, we tend to regard context systematically as an explaining factor to account for what has worked or not worked that well, by the time we reflect on our work. We then dance with it as political animals we all are: we smell opportunities, we stumble with threats, we adapt some activities, we refocus some efforts…is this enough?
At P&I we believe it is not enough. We welcome efforts recently fostered by others such as the series focused on think tanks´context at onthinktanks and the paper “Linking Think Tank Performance, Decisions, and Context” undertaken by Results for Development Institute in partnership with the University of Washington.
We aspire to build on these and enlarge the discussion to understand how context (at the macro but more especially at the meso or institutional levels) can both open up and hinder opportunities for a fruitful dialogue between research and policy. In this direction, we are eager to work with others. P&I was created to promote effective co-generation of relevant knowledge on the links between research and policy, with a special emphasis on Southern perspectives and experiences. We believe that we are a part of a bigger community all grappling with similar issues and challenges (especially in terms of engaging policymakers) in our search to promote a more fruitful interaction between research and policy. However, we have noticed a large disconnection between individuals and organizations, especially in developing countries, that tackle similar challenges and consequently a very low capacity to systematize lessons learned in order to build on what others have already tried out (both from successes and failures). One of the reasons for this, is that people in developing countries seldom have the knowledge about who is doing something similar form whom we could learn, nor the time/resources to tap into this knowledge in a more professional and systematic way.
A while ago we saw a clear opportunity for donors and initiatives like VayaYiko small grants from INASP to work as connectors and facilitators of knowledge systematization to ensure more profound and effective learning about emergent practices that are working to address the complexity entailed in this field, especially in terms of dealing with context. Fortunately we found that INASP was willing to support and cooperate with this challenge and join us in the development of a knowledge systematization effort on the ways in which context can enable or not opportunities for research to effectively interact with policy. Equally, there is a gap in systematized knowledge to improve design and delivery of capacity building efforts in this direction, taking into account contextual factors in a very specific manner.
So, we have just started to conduct this study called “Going beyond context matters”, which has two main objectives:
Objective 1 – to detect which are the windows of opportunity of different contexts for researchers and policymakers to better interact with each other or work jointly
Objective 2 – to inform the design and delivery of capacity building efforts with regard to the use of research evidence in policy making, by better deciphering how to deal with the context
To address these objectives, we will develop an analytical framework and an emergent practices guidance building on literature and relevant experiences from organizations and individuals working in large initiatives in different regions that engage policymakers and policymaking institutions.
We will jointly conduct this effort following two main principles:
1. Partner with policymakers in this effort
We believe that to better understand the context of political institutions and its implications, it is crucial to engage policymakers by take into account their views, their experience, their own thinking.
For that purpose, we intend to engage two senior policymakers who will serve as mentors in this project, by assessing the preliminary framework and reviewing findings and conclusions. Also, we will involve a senior expert in capacity building who can shed light into how our findings should inform this type of activities (More news on who they are soon!
2. Build on what others have learned
We will select a critical group of projects that has been working with political institutions to foster the use of evidence and therefore generated knowledge on the different contextual factors and their effect on the objectives outlined above. We intend to co-produce lessons learned, i.e. through focus group discussions with relevant donors that have supported this type of projects for a long time.
Thus, any of you who have either provided funds to this type of large projects or have led them in more than one region (thus experienced how context plays out in diverse settings) and is willing to contribute with some reflections and knowledge, please let us know! The fruits will be shared in the hope that they will enable is to move one step further in understanding context and being able to say how it matters and what we can do to better “dance” with it.