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)