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Lesson #20: Use what you have learned to craft a new future

This reflection is part of the 20 lessons included in the paper Lessons learned on promoting better links between research and policy in Latin America

Lessons learned from the past can inspire us for the future. It is clear from what has been shared across our paper, that there are promising opportunities to continue working to strengthen the link between research and policy in developing countries, especially by fostering more South-South collaboration, being lean and flexible so as to bring value to diverse contexts.

Latin America stands out as a region with demonstrated capacity and interest to produce new research on the topic. A recent example of this is the vibrant initiative “+ Saber América Latina” led by Grupo FARO in Ecuador and the  Centro de Políticas Comparadas de Educación in Chile, focused on generating and sharing knowledge to strengthen think tanks´capacities to conduct applied research and enhance public policiea at the local, national, regional and global levels.

However, this capacity is dispersed and not always easy to find. Some policy research institutions and universities may sporadically produce new knowledge on the interface between research and policy. However, even when a solid and relevant body of knowledge could be produced (which could also be of value and use for regions like Africa and Asia) there is need for better coordination of existing capacity and resources.  A regional player or a regional network could probably fill in this space and contribute with significant added value to what scarce and independent efforts can achieve. For this purpose, it should devise a clear strategy for research production:  1) by forming a cohort of well-known researchers that collectively interact to produce a body of related research or 2) by leading a research agenda that could be then developed by less experienced researchers with promising talent. In either case, it is recommendable that the research agenda is constructed collectively in order to ensure both relevance and use by those who are working to produce and/or use research in policy.

Also, there is an increasing interest and demand from individuals and organisations to improve the way they plan, monitor and evaluate policy influence as well as on how to better communicate evidence and research. There are other topics that have also raised significant interest such as fundraising and governance of policy research institutions. There is a select group of institutions and networks that can currently afford investing funds and time to develop new capacities or strengthen existing ones for which tailor-made capacity building schemes like mentoring, technical assistance and face to face workshops could be an option. We, at P&I, are currently discussing and finding concrete collaboration opportunities with them to help this knowledge be co-produced and shared with those who need it.

On the other hand, most of individuals and organisations interested in building new skills and capacity to use research for policy experience serious difficulties in terms of identifying appropriate spaces/persons for training and learning since the offer is still very scarce in the region. Many experts and consultants in issues such as planning and M&E are not yet specialized in how these capacities work in this field. Moreover, most of the potential trainees lack the resources and/or time to invest in developing specific capacities. In this sense, free or low cost online courses that can attract a variety of participants represent a very effective option to help this group access better knowledge and use it to improve the way they work.

Finally, networks and communities are much more difficult to sustain. Creating new ones is a large endeavor that implies a significant investment of resources and long term commitment to ensure they persist regardless the initial funding. Consequently, more than creating new spaces, it might make more sense to build on existing ones with a clear offer (research, communications, capacity building) that can help position the potential of the link between research and policy among stakeholders that can produce, disseminate and use research for policy.

Hopefully, at P&I we will be able to come back to these lessons and really use them to contribute with relevant and useful knowledge to spaces where it is needed and valued.

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