Thursday, 20 December 2012

Evolution of new roles: from researcher, to activist, to knowledge intermediary

By Simon Batchelor

The IDS Bulletin that this series of blogs is associated with was titled New Roles for Communication in Development?  My own article, Changing the Financial Landscape of Africa... was about a ten year journey for a small group of researchers and certainly over the decade (gosh that’s a long time!) our own roles evolved and changed.  

Researcher: In the article I start with some basic research. Commissioned through a competitive bid, we started researching how people were using mobile phones in Africa (and Asia).  This led to an insight about exchanging airtime, where people in three different countries (even in 2001) had worked out that they could do a sort of money transfer using mobile phones and airtime.

Lobbyist/Activist: It is at this point that our role begins to change. We started to move beyond our research responsibilities (as stated on the research proposal) and evolve into ‘research communicators’, even becoming advocates and lobbyists.  The article goes on to describe how conversations occurred with donors, private sector, senior government, central banks – presenting the idea of mobile phone money transfer (and the evidence that there was demand within Africa) and trying to get interest and buy-in to the idea. 

Knowledge Intermediary:  Moving on a year or so our role evolves further.  From lobbying about an idea, we begin to get involved with the details of implementing that idea - legislation, policy environments and private sector development.  Alongside this detail work, we also get involved with creating discussion space for the emerging players.  We start brokering meetings between people, undertaking social network analysis to identify who should talk to who, creating international conferences to create the space for donors, private sector, and legislators to come together, and for bankers and telecommunication to find each other in a new digital converging space.  We were (as Blane et al say in their introduction to the Bulletin (PDF)) “seeking to strengthen the linkages and flows of information between disciplines, areas of practice or sources of knowledge”  So from being a researcher investigating how communities use mobile phones we seem to have evolved into knowledge intermediaries.  

From researcher, to research communicator, to lobbyist, to knowledge intermediary.   Interesting. 

Recently I was working on Theories of Change and Impact pathways for the CGIAR centres, and their proposals really raised the question – where do the responsibilities of a researcher finish?  Do researchers have a duty to change the world, or do they produce their findings and leave it at that?  Do they have a duty to communicate their findings to those who might use them?  Do they have a duty to follow through and make sure that their research does more than sit on a shelf?  What are the boundaries of their and our responsibility?

As a final thought can I just add that the paper is constructed around a framework for policy influence first proposed by David Steven (PDF).  Steven talks about changing the framing of a discourse and creating spaces for dialogue within his five point frame.  I wrote the ‘story’ of the article as a narrative before finding the Steven framework; and then when I found it I realised that the story fits his framing.  I don’t know if all research to policy activism can be mapped onto his frame but I was amazed at how closely he captured our journey – I recommend it.

Simon Batchelor wrote the Bulletin article Changing the Financial Landscape of Africa: An Unusual Story of Evidence-informed Innovation, Intentional Policy Influence and Private Sector Engagement.
Simon is managing director at Gamos Ltd, and formally interim manager of the Impact and Learning Team at IDS. 

More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

How researchers can learn to stop worrying and love communicators

By Nicholas Benequista

Let’s be frank. Researchers don’t really like us research communicators.

They have good reason not to like us, but this doesn’t necessarily need to be so. To explain why, however, I have to go back thirty years or so.

The Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability ( taught us a lot about how researchers connect with political and social actors in distinct ways. Understanding of how individual researchers and their institutions view themselves as agents of change is a good way to begin thinking about a communication strategy, rather than the other way around.  Image credit: N.Benequista
When it was finally acknowledged that policy-makers mostly ignore research, Nathan Caplan postulated the "two communities theory" to explain this shocking phenomenon. He said that there was a "culture gap" between researchers and policy-makers demarcated by their different values, language, professional practices and institutional contexts.

In a sense, those of us who work in research communication are supposed to be the bridges between these two communities, but if you look critically at the literature on research communication, you’ll see that we’ve recreated that culture gap.

On the one side, various academic disciplines - including communication studies, political science and cultural theory - continue to examine research communication for insights into the relationship between knowledge and social change.

This body of mid-range theory, however, has often ignored the politics of the research field, including the increasing pressure imposed on "applied" areas such as development studies or health to deliver "influence." Consequently, these theories are blind to how research communication transforms researchers personally and to how the mainstreaming of research communication is actually a political force. Researchers resent political communicators because we represent an effort change the way they work, and we have to be willing to accept that we have sometimes (though not always) done so for the worse.

On the other side of this divide are the practice-minded guidebooks and handbooks for research communication. These certainly draw on the theory. Some guidebook authors are simultaneously publishing on the topic of research communication in peer-reviewed journals. The majority of them, however, are penned by the agencies - such as the UK Department for International Development or US Agency for International Development - who are mandating that the research they fund shows results. They tend to be bureaucratic and procedural, with long checklists and only the most cursory mention of theory. In my experience, when these “lessons” are delivered to researchers in this format, they are often met with either complete disinterest or with bristling contempt.

And here’s the irony. They are meant to close the culture gap, but they recreate it, because they make no attempt to understand researchers.

The biggest practical challenge of good research communication is a political challenge
Policy network maps and policy briefs are indeed useful skills that need to be learned, but the biggest practical challenge of good research communication is a political challenge of connecting researchers with other actors. The "two communities" theory was later dismissed as it was revealed that many researchers actually inhabit both communities quite well. Indeed, we (Joanna Wheeler and I) would add that researchers occupy an array of different communities - sometimes including high-level policy-makers and other times including local activist groups. But there are, nonetheless, still serious challenges to getting researchers to embrace research communication. This first challenge owes to the very diversity just mentioned. Many are not connected to high-level policy-makers, though perhaps highly influential in other ways: as teachers or as intellectual advisors for social movements. The current best practice for research communication almost completely ignores this diversity.

The second challenge is perhaps even more serious and brings us to the main point, which is the need to approach research communication as part and parcel of the research process. You might call it praxis, or you might just call it integration. Researchers may already be deeply involved in actions to promote political or social change on their own accord, but research communication asks them to do so within the constraints of their professional field. Deep social theory is necessary for understanding the important theoretical questions about knowledge and change raised by research communication, but the practice of research communication poses new professional demands on researchers that must be reconciled with methodological practices and the politics of research.

In other words, research communication isn’t really different from research. This is especially important in development, since it is not the 'ivory tower' that other academic disciplines would aspire to be. This is partly what we’re trying to work towards in our contribution to the IDS Bulletin on New Roles for Research Communication?

So researchers, please stop worrying about the oversimplifications of the policy briefing, and let’s instead think about how we can finally bridge that culture gap.

Nicholas Benequista co-authored the IDS Bulletin article Cartographers, Conciliators and Catalysts: Understanding the Communicative Roles of Researchers with Joanna Wheeler. He is currently carrying out an action research project in Kenya to test the possibilities offered by new communication technologies for journalists. You can follow Nicholas on Twitter at @benequista.

More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Forget asking if policymakers understand evidence – do we understand policy?

By Emilie Wilson

I am setting aside my role as editor for this blog for a minute to share some reflections on a recent workshop I attended. It was called Beyond Communication: exploring approaches to research uptake; and was organised by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) and UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Is “Research uptake” more jargon, or a different way of understanding communication? 

The first time I came across the expression “research uptake” was in 2010, when the new UK coalition government was voted in, and a marketing and communication “freeze” across all UK departments was implemented.

I was new to my Communications job at the time, and would have been inclined to agree with my colleague Jeff Knezovich’s observation that “The term was specifically designed to obfuscate its purpose—ironic, given that the whole point was to help clarify and communicate research findings. This obfuscation was a result of a change of government in the UK, and a “communications” witch-hunt from the Conservative-led coalition, branding such activities as “wasteful Labour spending” in a time of austerity”

However, a quick Google search reveals that “research uptake” was around pre-2010 and a number of different sectors have used the term when grappling with the issue ‘how on earth do you get people to do something with the research?’.  In health, for example in this paper “Fostering implementation of health services research findings into practice: a consolidated framework for advancing implementation science"; or in political economy, for example The Politics of Trade (these examples were thrown up by the ‘quick Google search’ so I’m not holding them up as exemplary merely indicative).

At the workshop, Kirsty Newman – Research Uptake Manager at DFID (and contributor to this blog) – described Research Uptake as “allowing us to take a holistic view” of this issue – here is a reproduction of the sketch I drew in my note-book to capture her description:

The assumption being that previously communicating research findings had focussed on ‘dissemination’ or ‘diffusion’ – i.e. supply; and that research uptake was shifting the focus to ‘demand’ – either ‘what do they want’ or ‘can we persuade them to want what we have’ Or more eloquently described by Jeff as “stimulating an enabling environment among end users of research to commission and find appropriate information to support their own policy processes”. Most people who work in marketing and communications will already be pretty familiar with the focus on stimulating demand, and I’m sure would be only too pleased share their wealth of research on this area!

Evidence-based policy – one way to reduce poverty 

It seems we are still living in an Age of Reason (at least in the northern hemisphere), believing strongly that research validated by expert peers and based on tried and tested methodological approaches has something to offer to people in power. The offer is that research can demonstrate what works or doesn’t work, and it is not supposed to be tainted by money, politics or tribal affiliation – it’s a global public good, a credible source of authority. The assumption is that decisions based on this objective knowledge source will be of the greatest possible benefit, and not privilege a minority or prop up a flawed system.

So, should the ‘demand’ box in my diagram be renamed “creating demand” – i.e. the process is still supply-driven. Evidence (derived from research) – like vitamins, for example – is good for you (and your policymaking) and we need to develop increasingly sophisticated ways for people to engage with it. But do we know much about the demand other than through dialogue which merely engages our ‘end users’ with our research products and processes? Evidence literacy has been used as a term to describe the ability of policymakers and practitioners to understand and apply research evidence, but have we stopped to ask ourselves about our own literacy?

The Kirsty Newman policymaking quiz (PowerPoint)

Kirsty Newman did just that during the workshop, when she put the shoe on the other foot, and asked those present at the workshop some simple questions mostly about the UK policy environment. Such as – what are the three principle functions of the UK parliament? How would you define a “civil servant”? (this was a multiple choice one). I’m ashamed to say that, even with a degree which includes a minor in politics, I only got 4/7 questions correct. And most people present scored less! 

It may have been that people in the room would have been more familiar with other policy environments (and not specifically the UK's), but Kirsty's quiz did well to make the point: do you know the language of the people you are trying to communicate with?

Which is why I think we should consider sticking with the term “communication”, describing a two-way process (from the Latin verb to share) rather than “uptake”, implying a one-way process.

Emilie Wilson is Communications Officer at the Institute of Development Studies, and editor of the Impact and Learning blog. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Trying to get research into use? Start by making users an integral part of the research design process

By Abby Mulhall

I was recently chatting to Barbara Adolph, a Principal Researcher at IIED, about 'how to get research into use' and we touched on the way that research is commissioned and designed. This led us to talk about our days at the International Centre for development-oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA), a wonderful organisation that has at its heart the concept of soft systems thinking to design and deliver client-oriented research and development programmes.

What's compelling about ICRA's approach is that it promotes the integration of stakeholder concerns, knowledge, action and learning around a theme of mutual interest. It is about defining the problem with the research users, whoever they were - not just farmers, but researchers, entrepreneurs, journalists, environmentalists - whoever is part of the 'innovation system' that affects research uptake and use.

Defining the research agenda: power and participation

A common thread running through many discussions and debates about research communication (or uptake or use or the many other seemingly interchangeable terms used to define the process of making research available, accessible, useful and useable) is power and participation. While the communication part of research use is essential, there are many other actors, processes and systems that affect the ultimate use of research. Not to mention its availability and accessibility.

Power relations and participation in the research itself, or more importantly in the initial definition of the problem and research design cannot be ignored. There are many examples of research programmes testing more innovative ways of communicating research and some that move further, by using communication as the process for achieving social change (see Nicholas Benequista's and Joanna Wheeler's article in this Bulletin; Jethro Petitt et al in Development in Practice or Sally Theobold et al in Health Research Policy and Systems).

But I think there is a need to re-think how we design development research:
  • Who is it really for? 
  • Who should determine the agenda? 
  • Who should quality assure the results (where the intended users are quite often the poor)?
Liz Carlile's blog in this series touched on a similar point - that we supply knowledge and information on our terms in response to a global conversation rather than local demand. Too often the design of the research programme is done in isolation of the different intended users of the research. They tend to be brought in once the funder has approved the design. Too often researchers have to respond to the policies and processes set by the funder, with little or no time to really reflect, learn and engage in the process of defining the research problem and identifying a solution.

Of course there are exceptions and one of the best examples I know about is CNRS, a Bangladeshi NGO that has worked extensively on natural resources management. Its strength is in inclusive participation and giving voice to a wide range of stakeholders who also have a say in the research agenda. The concept of Citizen Jury, an approach being used to democratise agricultural research, is another excellent example. 

Towards innovation systems thinking

DFID's Research into Use programme is an example of why we need to plan for uptake. Initially designed to get promising technologies from DFID's renewable natural resources programme into use, its learning in developing processes for doing this is extremely valuable.The process is partly about 'knowledge brokering', which is currently very topical and increasingly valued as an essential part of the system (see Catherine Fisher's Spectrum of Intermediary and Brokering functions in the Bulletin's introduction (PDF).

RIU goes a step further and tests an innovation systems approach (see Putting Research into Use: Lessons from contested visions of innovations) - recognising a need for a broader range of brokering tasks to support coordinated action in networks that are connected to innovation, policy and development processes.

In the Bulletin, Klerkx et al write 'research uptake is important, and knowledge brokering is an essential function, but should be accompanied by or integrated within the function of innovation brokering, which more broadly focuses on rearranging all technical, social and institutional relationships needed for innovation and change.Such a broad focus can contribute to creating an enabling environment for effective policy formulation and implementation, development and innovation'. I am a fan of the innovations systems approach to research uptake - though some would question how it addresses power and participation.

On this very topical issue of research communication, uptake and brokering - a new call for abstracts has just been launched - Driving Research Uptake through research brokering.

Abby Mulhall is Research Uptake Manager at the UK Department for International Development (DFID). We are grateful for her contribution to the Bulletin as a peer reviewer. This blog represents the author's views - not those of DFID.

More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • Supply and demand in evidence-informed policy - in pictures! (By Kirsty Newman)
  • Three things that stop development organisations being agents of change (By Liz Carlile)
  • Why researchers should consider a new model for engagement (By Ajoy Datta)
  • An interview with Blane Harvey, co-editor of New Roles for Communication in Development?
  • Redefining the researcher, and the research (By Zachary Patterson)
  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)
  • Friday, 30 November 2012

    Supply and demand in evidence-informed policy – in pictures!

    By Kirsty Newman

    I have talked before about supply and demand in evidence-informed policy but I decided to revisit the topic with some sophisticated visual aids. I am aware that using the using the model of supply/demand has been criticised as over-simplifying the topic – but I still think it is a useful way to think about the connections between research evidence and policy/practice (plus, to be honest, I am fairly simple!).

    You can distinguish between supply and demand by considering ‘what is the starting point?’. If you are starting with the research (whether its a single piece of research or a body of research on a given topic) and considering how it may achieve policy influence, you are on the supply side…

    In contrast, those on the demand side, typically start with a decision (or a decision-making process) and consider how research can feed into this decision…

    This distinction may seem obvious, but I think it is often missed. What this means in practice is an explosion of approaches to evidence-informed policy/practice which attempt to push more and more evidence out there in expectation that more supply will lead to a better world…

    One problem with this is that if your supply approaches focus on just one research project – or one side of a debate – they risk going against evidence-informed policy…

    Some supply approaches do aim to increase access to a range of research and to synthesise and communicate where the weight of evidence lies. However, even these approaches are destined to fail if there is not a corresponding increase in demand…

    I think we should continue to support supply-side activities but I  think we also need to get better at supporting the demand. So what would this look like in practice?

    For me the two components of demand are the motivation (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) and the capacity (i.e. the knowledge, skills, attitudes, structures, systems etc) to use research. In other words, you need to want to use research and you need to be able to do so.

    Motivation can be improved by enhancing the organisational  culture of evidence use – but also by putting systems in place which mandate and/or reward evidence use…

    Achieving this in practice needs the support of senior decision makers within a policy making institution. So for example the UK Department for International Development has transformed the incentives to use research evidence since Prof Chris Whitty came in as the Chief Scientific Advisor and Head of Research.

    But incentives on their own are not enough. There also needs to be capacity and it needs to exist at multiple levels; at an organisational level, there needs to be structural capacity such as adequate internet bandwidth, access to relevant academic journals etc etc. At an individual level, those involved in the policy making process need to be ‘evidence-literate’ – i.e. they need to know whaat research evidence is, where they can find it, how they can appraise it, how to draw lessons from evidence for policy decisions etc etc…

    Achieving this may require a new recruitment strategy – selecting people for employment who already have a good understanding of research evidence. But continuing professional development courses can also be used to ‘upskill’ existing staff.

    Anyway, the above is basically a pictural summary of this paper in the IDS bulletin so if you would like to read about the same topic in more academic terms (and without the pictures!) please do check it out. Its not open access I’m afraid so if you want a copy please tweet me @kirstyevidence or leave a comment below.

    Hope you liked the pictures!

    Kirsty Newman co-authored the Bulletin article entitled "Stimulating Demand for Research Evidence: what role for capacity-building?" Many thanks to Kirsty for allowing us to republish this blog, which was originally published on her own blog, KirstyEvidence. You can also follow Kirsty on Twitter. 

    More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • Three things that stop development organisations being agents of change (By Liz Carlile)
  • Why researchers should consider a new model for engagement (By Ajoy Datta)
  • An interview with Blane Harvey, co-editor of New Roles for Communication in Development?
  • Redefining the researcher, and the research (By Zachary Patterson)
  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)

    Wednesday, 28 November 2012

    Comparing research and oranges II: do communities want oranges or flowers?

    By Simon Batchelor

    In her blog, Comparing research and oranges: what can we learn from value chain analysis?, my colleague Elise Wach asks whether “producing research first and then deciding how to communicate it afterwards the same as growing an orange and then deciding how and where it will be sold?” She went on to speculate whether value chain analysis can add something to our own analyses of how to strengthen the knowledge value chain.

    Her piece reminded me of a video we used at a team retreats, entitled Whose Reality Counts. Produced by Praxis, based in India, it also caused us to wonder about the comparison with research production, and the processes of setting a research agenda.

    In case you don’t have the time to watch the 7 minute video (but please do – it's so well done!) here's a quick synopsis:

    A senior office-based person sits and has a bright idea: giving flowers to a poor community. The idea is passed down the decision-making chain to farmers in the poor community, who, initially pleased, begin to plant flowers.

    However, still sat in his office, the official continues to pass flowers down the line, and we see the farmer becoming frustrated with too many flowers and not enough diversity of food, which is what the community really wants. The community cannot make their voices heard, until the official goes to the community himself expecting to see grateful villagers and a thousand flowers. That’s not what he finds on his arrival, and it's only after listening the villagers and their needs that he gains an understanding what they really need - their reality as described by them.

    For me, the parallels are obvious. Research conducted in isolation from the realities in the field may produce insights, and these initial insights may even be appreciated by the community. However, communities have priorities and there needs to be a feedback loop to find out what those priorities are and whether our research needs to be redirected.

    As Elise says in her blog “When is audience research necessary, and when does the ‘if we build it, they will come’ assumption apply? Where is the line between research communication and advocacy? How can we create demand and to what extent should we do so?

    So, whose responsibility is it to set the research agenda?

    In a recent review of plans from leading research centres, we had to ask ‘where are the boundaries for a researcher’. If the research centres are intending to change the world in some way (their stated intention) then there needs to be engagement with the outside world during the research.

    We ended up noting two type of engagement:
    • ‘A need to engage with a representative sample of the end users to ensure that new hybrids or practices fit the ‘real world’ farming systems’. 
    • And ‘there are the actors at the boundary of the research who might take the research forward. At some point, research that has led to successful product development will need to go to scale’.
    Isolated research may change the world slightly, but may also rapidly become too many flowers when the community needs food. However you frame it – as Value chains with Customer feedback and monitoring market demand, or as participatory development with consultation and ‘mainstreaming the voices of the poor’, research that changes the world is going to require tight feedback loops and a view that is much wider than an agenda set by sitting in an office.

    Thursday, 22 November 2012

    Three things that stop development organisations being agents of change

    By Liz Carlile

    Last week in Nairobi I met up with partners Julius Mwanga and Busiinge Amooti from the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre (KRC) in Uganda. We talked about how to get robust, relevant research evidence into the hands of farmers. KRC believes in “putting the people first”. This means taking quality research that focuses on their communities’ needs and interpreting it in ways that give farmers quick answers to their pressing questions. The dialogue is fast, so demand for information about best practices grows.

    While distinct, this chimes with the “triple loop” approach to climate change communication and social learning that we — IDS, IIED and friends — are exploring with CCAFS, the Climate Change and Agricultural Food Security research programme of the CGIAR. We have been thinking about ways the CGIAR centres could help bring hard science and local knowledge together to provide better solutions at the community level.

    ‘Development communications’, ‘research communications’ and all the related communications family has a well-established theory, and we continue to have new learning. But in my experience, what challenges many development organisations from being true agents of change is not so much about understanding the theory. It is about three other things:

    1. We focus on delivery not change For 50 years, development organisations have striven to give assistance, solve problems and provide answers through research and action. But we have focused on the collective challenge and not on individual end users. This orientation is at odds with the way effective organisations mobilise, change or drive consumer demand. We can learn from business here and reorient our organisations to listen for answers, take risks, be flexible, make quick decisions and change course. Our incentive structures, our need for consensus, and demands for over-meticulous accountability hamper fast action and therefore learning “on the job” or together. Our strategic objectives focus on implementation and delivery, but not on change.

    2. We talk more than we listen – and on our terms Even if we increasingly hear what our partners and stakeholders need, our approaches are still based on supplying knowledge and information on our terms— and in response to a global conversation rather than local demand. Kirsty Newman’s recent blog pushes us to explore this supply and demand in building research agendas. But even if we build a research agenda based on people’s needs, its power remains with the researcher and their team, who decide when and how to share findings.

    3. Underinvestment means underachievement We have yet to convince donors to support the communication skills and time required to get development information and research into use – whether by the policy community or local communities. To get this right – to really understand how change happens and predict potential tipping points – we need to invest. It is ironic that while great communication campaigns are applauded for their success, the praise rarely translates into money that development organisations can earmark for communication. We are trapped in a vicious cycle of underinvestment and therefore continued underachievement.

    Two organisations we met in Nairobi share traits that illustrate how to combat these challenges. They know how to tell stories, and they listen hard to what users need or care about. Their audiences are all-important.

    Well Told Story (WTS) produces Shujaaz a multi-media campaign targeted at Kenyan youth.

    Its director, Rob Burnett, reminded us he was in the business of making change – not just communicating messages. WTS spends up to a fifth of its budget and a considerable proportion of its time talking with its audience and monitoring change against tightly defined and agreed indicators. How often do development organisations like ours work out the detail of the change we need and then decide the communications strategy required? Too often we must submit proposals for funding well in advance of that becoming a detailed reality.

    The Mediae Trust has also spent years influencing behaviour through targeted multi-media communications, with a strong emphasis on local radio and TV. Most of us in the development and communications know and respect its TV show, Makutano Junction. Indeed my Ugandan colleagues were delighted to meet the trust’s founder, David Campbell, as the show is now also a favourite in Uganda. The trust’s success is based on understanding its audience’s needs and providing support on issues that represent a daily challenge.

    The change we need But few development organisations are structured to prioritise and listen to our audiences and respond to their needs quickly. Our funding structures and targets rarely allow that. We tend to work on global challenges that we believe have local realities, rather than taking learning from local priorities to inform global agendas.

    At Rio+20, many of us questioned the status quo. Our work with CCAFS shows how. Our studies show that unless all partners in a shared learning process see change, the result is disempowerment and paralysis. We need to be agents in our own change processes rather than just talking about what others should do. I worry that we can end up theorising for too long when real change is in the practice.

    Liz Carlile is Director of Communications at the Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and co-authored the IDS Bulletin article, Understanding context in learning-centre approaches to climate change communication.

    More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • Why researchers should consider a new model for engagement (By Ajoy Datta)
  • An interview with Blane Harvey, co-editor of New Roles for Communication in Development?
  • Redefining the researcher, and the research (By Zachary Patterson)
  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)

  • Tuesday, 20 November 2012

    Open Access? Make It So

    By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Books of the Past) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
    Lin Kristensen [CC-BY-2.0] 
    via Wikimedia Commons

    By Alison Norwood

    There’s an episode in Star Trek where Captain Picard has a copy of a printed book, opened reverently, under a glass case. In his future, printed books are rare. And therefore precious.

    In our own real-world future printed books will probably be equally as rare, but whatever physical way a book manifests itself – on paper or an electronic screen – it is the content which is the most precious component.

    Which is why, say the advocates of Open Access, content should always be available to everyone, everywhere, for good or evil. Immediate access
    to online material can enhance more quickly the progress of medical science (for instance), with the concomitant risk of research work being
    copied unacknowledged or passed-off as someone else’s.

    DFID’s announcement, earlier this year, that their funded projects must be Open Access (OA) by 2014 has focused the minds of those previously pondering OA practicalities.

    What do we want? – Open Access! – When do we want it? – Now!

    It could be really simple.

    To post articles into an institutional repository, such as IDS’ OpenDocs, satisfies the immediate need to get research online and available. But to also publish in a respected academic journal – whether an established ‘print’ one or a newer platform specifically created for OA – is a more considered process.

    To transition from the known peer review quality-control channels to new models should be straightforward and would be essential to ensure citations – keep the peer review system in place so that the submitted article version to a journal is the most rigorous that it can be and then, at that point, focus on the most prestigious or most far-reaching OA vehicle, dependant on the author’s priorities.

    And their funding. Currently, we are still in a financially-driven publishing industry, so if the reader is no longer expected to pay for their books and journals, then the author has to pay to publish instead. How they source that funding is the current dilemma, ideally with publication written into research outputs from the start of a project. Even the most basic forms of OA publishing will need time and funds for the quality-control basics covering the services of copy-editors, designers and the lack of royalties.

    The rise in numbers of OA academic journals over recent years proves the appetite for spreading research as widely as possible. The era of communication and accountability is upon us, with academic writing moving beyond a few elite bookshelves. Subsidising academic books for research has gone on for years, with some authors more evangelical and practical about this than others; now there seems general widespread willingness for author- or institutional-subsidy, or at least the theory of it. Worldwide economic recession conditions, and emphasis from funders for successful outcomes to research projects, concentrates attention on the kind of content that will in future be published from scant financing to spread across all social science disciplines.

    Some OA advocates suggest moving away from ‘traditional’ publisher journal models to an in-house approach, but it should be remembered that the basic advantage that an established big-name publishing house brings to the deal is their marketing reach. Without that, if an article sits in OpenDocs and there are no resources to advertise it, who will know it is there?

    Debates around OA will continue no doubt, but the move towards it seems inexorable, and a challenge that everyone concerned with publishing academic research is going to have to find their own best solutions.

    Does "everything online" make for accessible research?

    The OA ideology is sound – research freely available to all at one click – but at this time we need to consider carefully the transition from old ‘profit’ models to new ‘altruistic’ ones at a realistic level. It should for instance be remembered that as much as developing countries have mobile phone access and/or limited internet access, it may still be more feasible for a while longer to keep producing those precious printed copies for that particular market. Not as museum pieces in glass cages, but continuing as a useful resource.

    This is a time of big shake-up for the publishing world, but it will be resolved, and perhaps in the future we may look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Alison Norwood is Production Editor in the Central Communications team at the Institute of Development Studies

    Wednesday, 14 November 2012

    Why researchers should consider a new model for engagement

    NASA image for Hurricane Sandy
    Hurricane Sandy from space Accessed from

    By Ajoy Datta 

    As George Monbiot argues in the Guardian, there are several ways in which the impact of the recent hurricane Sandy is likely to have been exacerbated by man-made climate change.

    Although there’s little doubt that our climate is changing, understanding precisely how and what we do to prepare for it is far from straightforward.  

    It might at first seem a matter for environmental and meteorological scientists (PDF).

    But experts need to be engaged from areas such as food security and agriculture, natural resource management, ecosystems and biodiversity, infrastructure and human health. Expertise is also required to help map out adaptation options, including disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures to manage hydro-meteorological risks, such as dykes and dams to mitigate flooding, or to assess the feasibility of introducing different crop varieties.

    However, discussions shouldn’t be limited to scientists and other experts. Communities have for centuries developed their own ways of coping with climactic variability and extreme weather events. Often, non-governmental organisations, community groups and social movements are better at self-organising and working coherently and quickly towards a common goal than government authorities. This may be because these smaller, local organisations and groups often have a stronger understanding of local context and are more likely to take ownership over solutions.

    Resonating with findings from a recent report by David Booth (who argues that governance challenges in Africa are not fundamentally about one set of people getting another set of people to behave better but about both sets of people finding ways to act collectively in their own best interests), in my article for the IDS Bulletin, entitled Deliberation, Dialogue and Debate: why researchers need to engage with others to address complex issues, I have argued that traditional linear approaches to communicating research to policymakers are inadequate. Researchers now share the field of knowledge production and communication with many others. Where appropriate, those who view their role in relation to policy should be prepared to engage with stakeholders affected by policy issues and expose their findings to review and discussion.

    If researchers aim to engage in dialogue through structured processes, experience has shown that careful planning is required to clarify intentions, select who to engage with, when to engage, and how best to do so.

    Skilled intermediaries can be adept at facilitating engagement processes by, for instance, providing information to participants, developing their capacities, and thus making efforts to redress power asymmetries. But in doing so, some researchers will need to alter their own mind-sets. This may mean working in inter-, multi- and/or trans-disciplinary research teams, admitting to being part of a value-based system, and disempowering themselves in relation to other stakeholders such as members of the public.

    And research institutions need to provide researchers with the right incentives to engage effectively, enable them to contribute to policy and political processes and develop realistic expectations as to what they can collectively achieve.

    Ajoy Datta is a Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)  and wrote the IDS Bulletin article Deliberation, Dialogue and Debate: why researchers need to engage with others to address complex issues (PDF).

    More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • An interview with Blane Harvey, co-editor of New Roles for Communication in Development?
  • Redefining the researcher, and the research (By Zachary Patterson)
  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)


    Monday, 12 November 2012

    Open for Development... what are the implications for research communication?

    By Alan Stanley

    The EADI Information Management Working Group (EADI IMWG for short!) is a long-standing working group whose annual meeting has been a regular event in the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) calendar for well over 20 years. This year’s meeting was held in the beautiful surroundings of the University of Antwerp and hosted by the impressive Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB).

    The topic was “Open for Development” and explored how the linked movements of Open Access, Open Data and Open Content are relevant to our work and how to make the best use of these innovations in the development context in which we work - that is knowledge-brokering and research communication.

    Open Access has been a recurring theme for the group over the years but there have been significant developments in the last 18 months. A high profile global boycott of academic publisher Elsevier and the publication of the Finch report in the UK have caused unprecedented debate on Open Access issues in the broader academic community. Similarly DFID’s new Open and Enhanced Access Policy has forced many in the development community to sit up and take notice.

    At the same time new technical innovations and increasing access to the internet have led to growing interest in the potential application of Open Data and Open Content (Open Educational Resources) for sharing knowledge and learning in international development.

    A key question for the development community to address is to understand:
    • Who is driving these innovations? 
    • Do they really reflect the needs of research producers and consumers in developing countries?
    • Or could they actually be adding to existing information inequalities across the digital divide?

    To help answer this IDS was pleased to be able to support the attendance of Eve Gray from the Scholarly Communication in Africa programme at the University of Cape Town to give the opening keynote presentation “Open Access is 2012 –a developing country perspective”.

    Eve highlighted some startling inequalities and the dominance of what she called the “English-speaking global North” in the current academic publishing models and, more pervasively, the indicators and rankings used to assess research quality, and ultimately, academic performance. This is exemplified by this map World Map of Science Research Publication 2001 (SASI, 2006), published on WorldMapper - Eve's comment being that this has not changed significantly in the last few years.

    © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) Downloaded from

    She also highlighted some notable success stories in Open Access publishing models such as peer-reviewed open access journal, Plos One, and Brazil's Scientific Electronic Library Online, SciELO.

    But fundamentally Eve was calling for a move from “Open Access” to “Open Research” which embraces the emerging Open Data movement and broader changes in how research is conducted and communicated. She presented a vision for the future where we focus less on journal publishing and move to less competitive and more collaborative models. The case for these becomes more apparent if we look beyond the divisive Impact Factor to measure the reach and influence of research based on "alternative metrics" (altmetrics).

    Alan Stanley is Senior Thematic Convenor with IDS Knowledge Services

    Altmetrics is something we are looking into here at IDS...What are your experiences of using altmetrics to measure reach and influence?

    Wednesday, 7 November 2012

    Listen to an interview with Blane Harvey, one of the editors of New Roles for Communication in Development?

    In this interview, Blane Harvey, one of the editors for the IDS Bulletin New Role for Communication in Development? discusses three key thematic areas under discussion in the Bulletin:
    • Context and the political economy of knowledge
    • Networks, partnerships and knowledge-sharing
    • Role of new and emerging technologies

    Blane Harvey: New IDS Bulletin 'New Roles for Communication in Development?' from Research to Action on Vimeo. Read the Introduction to the Bulletin (PDF), by Blane Harvey, Tessa Lewin and Catherine Fisher

    More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • Redefining the researcher, and the research (By Zachary Patterson)
  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)
  • Thursday, 1 November 2012

    Redefining the Researcher, and the Research

    By Zachary Patterson

    Tessa Lewin and I wrote an article entitled “Approaches to Development Research Communication” for the recent IDS Bulletin on New Roles for Communication in Development? We looked at the evolution of development research communications alongside the evolution of different development paradigms. The article points to a scattered and shifting communication field, which draws from a diverse range of development paradigms often in a way that is both incoherent and contradictory. Alongside the plurality of communication approaches, innovations in technology have contributed to changes in how researchers and practitioners both access and communicate research. However, despite the growth in platforms that allow open access to information, we remain limited by what many regard as anachronistic power structures.

    Slide from Tessa Lewin's presentation at the Institute of Development Studies. The whole presentation can be viewed at:

    New technologies are transforming the field of development research communication and this process raises new ethical dilemmas. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tensions around intellectual property. There is an inherent tension between the academic system, which relies on sole authorship and a profitable publication model, and the idea of development research serving the communal, public good. Much development research is practice and policy-based, further augmenting these complications. While development research positions itself as a public good that strives to be altruistic and value-free, the power dynamics of capital continue to disrupt the public availability of its findings. The current tug-of-war occurring within the arena of academic publishing can offer a useful lens to unmask and illuminate broader dynamics within the field.

    Are new technologies helping Open Access campaigning gather momentum?

    A confrontation over the access to academic research has played out in the UK over the past few months, as academics continue to heavily criticize the publishers of scientific journals. Scientific and medical academic journals, that publish work largely funded by taxpayers, have charged UK universities around £200m annually for access in recent years. Supporters of what has become known as the ‘academic spring’ have argued that the findings of publicly-funded research should be made openly available to academic institutions and the general public, for whatever purpose.  Since the initial arguments of those involved in the ‘academic spring’, more than 12,000 academic researchers have signed a boycott of the Dutch publisher Elsevier, in an attempt to broaden the campaign against the pro-market model of academic research and publication. The campaign has since influenced the UK government to approve a plan to make all publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read. Meanwhile, the public availability of many academic publications that could aid the effectiveness and efficiency of development approaches and outcomes remains limited.

    Paul Mason, Newsnight's economics editor, has argued that our current political landscape is shaped by a combination of innovations in contemporary communication technologies, shifts in global demographics, and the public realization of the power of networks over hierarchies.  In particular, technological developments have helped to consolidate local citizen awareness and action, while placing researchers in positions where they are doing more than collecting and sharing knowledge. However, while the new age of research communication technology has opened the way for unprecedented availability and distribution of knowledge, and the blurring of divisions  between academic, professional, and amateur researchers, the availability of development research remains varied.  Access to academic and scientific development research through ICTs and informative virtual spaces continues to be surrounded by conflict and tension in terms of ownership (or privatization) and openness.

    In article earlier this year for the London Review of Books, Slavoj Žižek suggests that the current communications and virtual space tug-of-war between global citizens and government and private interests began with an attempt by the powerful to ‘privatize general intellect’.  He warns that because the academic research and publication model is rooted in the capitalist market, there is a strong pull to continue the privatization of research – including that which serves the 'public good'. While the academic system struggles to survive in an increasingly market-driven environment, new communications approaches are creating more layered and complex options for accessing and sharing knowledge. Despite the hopes that we may have for information and communication technologies in development research communications, it is not yet clear how this current chapter of opportunities and challenges will play out.

    Interested in reading more around this topic? Try..
    The Internet and Democratic Citizenship by Stephen Coleman and Jay G. Blulmer
    Radical media: rebellious communication and social movements by John D.H. Downing

    With many thanks to Tessa Lewin for her support in the writing of this blog post. 

    More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development? 

  • Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy (By Fran Seballos)
  • How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? (By Tessa Lewin)