Thursday, 4 October 2012

Information ecosystems of policy actors - new Working Paper

By Simon Batchelor

In this blog, I have previously discussed some longer term research we are conducting around how policymakers understand, access and use information. For example, Early headlines from research on policymakers and ICTS: persistent and curious enquirers (with smartphones) or Digital information on the move: the rise of the Tablet.

I'm pleased to now be able to share with you a new working paper, entitled Information Ecosystems of Policy Actors - Reviewing the Landscape, which presents interim findings and analysis so far.

The full data set will include respondents from Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nepal, Kenya and Bangladesh. The interim findings report on face-to-face structured interviews with 368 policy actors in the first 4 countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Nepal and India.

Why did we conduct this research?
Well, information ecosystems are changing the world over. This is true for policy actors in every country in the world. Even those actors in countries with poor connectivity are experiencing dramatic changes in the way they, as decision-makers, access technology and use it. In the working paper, we use the term 'policy actors' to encompass all those involved in significant decision-making – including those linking policy and practice, and those engaged with civil society and private sector policies as well as government.

So what have we found? Standing at 80 pages, the working paper is not a light read! However, it does is confirm with evidence what many of us knew intuitively. That is, 'policy actors' as part of society's elite do have access to the latest information technology. This includes ipads, tablets PCs, and smartphones. I think we were a little surprised at first, but the sample of policy actors as a whole have a very similar profile of technology access to the average UK or USA household.

This was important to us. Here at IDS, we are working on various knowledge-based and knowledge mobilisation programmes. Our study was intended to provide a current view of how policy actors engaged with information systems, and where knowledge intermediaries (people and organisations who mediate between researchers and decision-makers) could best add value.

Implications for knowledge intermediary
Early adopters of the newer forms of ICT are changing their behaviour and searching for information in new ways. Knowledge intermediaries need to adapt their mechanisms and pathways to ensure they contend for these emerging patterns of behaviour. About 40 per cent of policy actors are already using smartphones, so the development of mobile apps which assist research communications would seem appropriate.

Indeed, looking to the future, there were in general positive attitudes towards new ICT services, reinforced by positive social referents. With very few limiting control factors, there is a positive intention to use new ICT services such a social media, video online, instant messaging, smartphone apps. Given their hard-ware, it is likely that policy actors will be increasingly using the new ICT services in the coming year. See the graphic below:
Graph from IDS Working Paper: Information Ecosystems of Policy Actors - Reviewing the Landscape 
There is often an assumption in knowledge intermediary work that senior policy actors may not be searching for information directly themselves, and that they are simply 'presented' with information. While this may remain the case in the poorer and/or more formally organised countries, it is less so in the mid-range countries. The implication is that where connectivity is improving, policy actors will look for information themselves. They will spend a significant amount of time looking for information, and they will be 'persistent and curious'.

An implication of this is to work on ensuring visibility when it comes to Internet search engines like Google. Where knowledge intermediaries intend to use the internet to communicate and disseminate summaries of research and evidence, it is important to ensure that they can be seen through these search engines, especially Google. While ranking across all search engines is important, the data confirms the current dominance of Google. In terms of existing websites that specialise in development information there was a reasonable awareness across the respondents. There is room for improvement.

Finally the findings also offer an insight into 'traditional media' (radio, TV and print). Policy actors do engage with the traditional media and while we have seen that they currently have very negative perceptions of the media‟s performance, nevertheless a significant proportion of them are engaging with the media day by day. There is therefore a role for the knowledge intermediary to assist the 'translation' of research and evidence into the media.

These are only the headlines – have a look at the working paper. We invite further feedback to this working paper and comments that might be assist and direct us in the full analysis.