Monday, 29 October 2012

Eve Gray talks about why Open Access is crucial for research from the global South

By Emilie Wilson

We were delighted to welcome Eve Gray to IDS on two occasions this year - in person in September; and virtually, as a panel speaker at an IDS seminar live-streamed during Open Access week (22-28 October), entitled "Open Access: are southern voices being stifled?"

On the first occasion, I jumped on to the opportunity to be able to talk to Eve, and catch some of her thoughts on camera... watch the video below

Read more about the African Commons Project

Follow Eve Gray's blog

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Challenges in communicating co-constructed knowledge to influence policy

By Fran Seballos

Fran Seballos is Partnership Officer at the Institute of Development Studies. She served as moderator and discussant in the recent IDS Seminar on New roles for communication in development research which coincided with launch of the IDS Bulletin on the same topic. She shares her thoughts on how this seminar has influenced her thinking in this role.

I have spent the past few months getting to grips with the idea of "partnering for knowledge co-construction" - specifically for generating knowledge that can influence policy. The emphasis on influence led me to an exploration of ways in which co-constructed knowledge is adapted for and communicated to specific (and sometimes imagined) audiences. For me, what emerged from the seminar on Communications for Development (and from reading the Bulletin!) was a re-framing of development communication as an inherent and ongoing part of the research process - which fits quite neatly with the idea of co-constructing knowledge.

What do I mean by co-construction knowledge?

My understanding of co-construction is as a 'social learning process premised on interaction between diverse actors and rooted in human relationships'. Partnering is an essential part of co-construction and ultimately the continuous communication of ideas, experiences and knowledge between partners and other collaborators is the basis of a ‘learning-to-know’ process.

But the notion of co-construction for policy influencing reveals some of the tensions described in the Bulletin – around legitimacy of knowledge, where expertise lies, and to whom (and how) it should be made relevant or ‘serviceable’. One of the primary risks of taking a co-construction approach to generating knowledge for policy influencing is that a traditional reduction of knowledge into a set of implications for policy (Abstracted Adaptation) means that much of the back-stage learning becomes invisible (See Nowotny, 2007).

It also exposes the process to a set of parameters handed down from the policy sphere about what counts as evidence. This creates an immediate tension of accountability in the communication process between - on the one hand - the demand for a policy-relevant output that must have salience and legitimacy for its pre-determined target audience, and, on the other, the need to be accountable to the knowledge holders participating in the process, meeting their needs and expectations.

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

From a partnerships perspective - where all partners’ goals and objectives should be recognised in a common process - co-construction should provide opportunity for those engaged to benefit their own social change and knowledge development agenda. Therefore communicating knowledge must be explicitly designed into the process in ways that are sensitive to the needs and knowledges of those engaged in it, and in ways that support the intended knowledge users to engage with and learn from the different framings inherent in a co-construction process.

Where co-construction can be aligned with communication for development, what implications does this have for partnerships?

A partnership needs to share its expectations on why it is conducting the research or co-constructing knowledge; which spaces it hopes to influence; where they would like to see change happen; and who the critical actors are that can support or enable change: these may be diverse.

Secondly they need to understand which partner has the skills to communicate in which space and with which actor; what methodology is appropriate and relevant to whom; and how they intend to maximise the opportunities for communication and/or engagement throughout the process.

Thirdly they need to consider how a process of co-construction enables learning and knowledge development for those they intend to engage in the process. This means thinking about which methods of communicating knowledge can: support the intended knowledge exchange and co-construction processes;  and support participants to communicate with their specific networks

Finally, by conceiving of co-construction as a communication process, partners can draw on a much larger method box - not only to enable, capture and share learning in multiple ways but also to introduce innovation into a co-construction process

Ref: NOWOTNY, H. 2007. How Many Policy Rooms are There? : Evidence-Based and Other Kinds of Science Policies. Science Technology & Human Values, 32, 479-490. 

Fran Seballos is Partnerships Officer at the Institute of Development Studies.  

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? Forthcoming blog series

By Tessa Lewin

What does validity mean in an environment where bloggers and journalists are often viewed as more credible, useful or accessible sources than researchers? How are the roles of researchers and research communicators changing? This landscape has been undergoing a significant shift in recent years.

The emergence of new technologies has been accompanied by other shifts in the politics and business of development knowledge: the understanding of what constitutes ‘expert knowledge’, a growing emphasis on process over product in research, and new understandings of what drives social change and policy influence.

With the rise of participatory and co-constructed communications have come suggestions that the rigour and ‘hard evidence’ needed to influence policy has been neglected. As some have turned back to grassroots forms of communication such as community radio, they face ambivalence from others struggling to see what is new or innovative about such ‘archaic’ approaches.

Alongside colleagues Blane Harvey and Susie Page, I have written for and edited the latest edition of the IDS Bulletin journal, entitled
New Roles for Communication in Development?

We wanted to explore these interesting changes by drawing on the experiences of practitioners, theorists and community intermediaries from a wide range of disciplines.

We came from a range of disciplines and experiences ourselves - I'm Communications Manager for the Pathways of Women's Empowerment research programme, Blane is a Research Fellow in the Climate Change team at IDS and worked recently been working on Climate Airwaves, a community radio project, whereas Susie Page was manager for the Impact and Learning team, focused on 'how communicating research brings about change'.

The Bulletin's articles reflect the overlaps and disconnects within different fields (particularly on how new technologies, approaches and configurations of research communication are influencing the practice of development) and sit, at various points, in tension or consensus with one another. They reflect the unresolved nature of the politics and practice of research communication – and begin to map a complex picture of this arena.

We outline our thinking on this in more detail in the Bulletin's Introduction: Is development research communication coming of age? (PDF)

Over the next few months we will be inviting the contributors to this Bulletin to write a series of blog pieces, outlining and reflecting on their articles in the Bulletin.

Watch this space….

Tessa Lewin is Research Office in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at the Institute of Development Studies. She's also Communications Manager for the Pathways of Women's Empowerment research programme consortium

Read the full blog series.. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Comparing research and oranges: what can we learn from value chain analysis?

By Elise Wach

A conversation with a colleague the other day about how we would communicate our research findings for a nutrition initiative struck me as remarkably similar to the conversations I held under orange trees in eastern Uganda about market research and value chain analysis a few years ago.

In Uganda, the government was promoting the cultivation of certain fruit trees based on studies that had shown which varieties were agriculturally viable.  Farmers transitioned their plots from cassava to orange trees on the assumption that there would be a market for their oranges once their trees started fruiting several years down the line. 

Obviously, to us value chain analysts, this was crazy – it was necessary to do some market research first to find out where there were opportunities for these fruits in the national, regional, or international markets, and then grow and prepare the right crops accordingly. 

What can we learn by applying value chain concepts to our research?
Our thinking was shaped by the countless instances of NGOs and donors promoting the production of something (whether oranges, soaps, water pumps, etc.) without doing their homework to find out if anyone might purchase them and under what conditions: whether there was an opportunity in the market for the product (e.g. will people buy the oranges to eat, or would a juicing company be interested in them?), whether product could be improved to better meet consumer needs and preferences (e.g. are Naval oranges preferred over Valencia for juicing?  What about for eating?), whether demand could be stimulated (e.g. can we promote orange juice as a healthy breakfast option to increase consumption?), etc.  Without doing this research first, there is a significant risk that the oranges that farmers produce will not bring them the returns they hoped for. 

So I wondered, is 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? 

We invest a substantial amount of time and resources into producing our research and for most of us, having our research reach other people is our primary concern.  

What does the value chain for research look like?

Our product, or ‘oranges’ are our research studies. Our ‘market analysis’ is our ‘audience research’.  Our ‘marketing approach’ is our ‘research uptake strategy’. Our ‘value chain analysis’ is the research we do about ‘evidence into policy’ or ‘knowledge into action’.

We work to strengthen the knowledge value chain.  We build demand for our products through increasing the demand for research and evidence.  We alter our products to our consumer needs through producing 3-page policy briefs for some and Working Papers for others.  And we create or strengthen bridges between our producers and consumers (e.g. individuals such as knowledge intermediaries / knowledge brokers or systems such as the policy support unit that IFPRI is supporting within the Ministry of Agriculture in Bangladesh).  We understand that policy decisions are complex, just as markets have long been recognised as being complex (the outputs from value chain analysis, when done well, never look like actual chains, just as a theory of change never fits into log frame boxes). 

Obviously, there are differences between research and oranges.  The shelf-life of research is clearly longer than the shelf-life of oranges, and research can be dusted off time and time again and used in a variety of ways, many of which we’re unable to anticipate.  But much of the impact of our research does rest on the timely communication of our findings.  While Andy Sumner’s research on the bottom billion will certainly facilitate a better historical understanding of poverty, I will venture to guess that he also hopes that this information will shape development policy so as to better tackle this issue. 

We do face many similar issues as our business-minded colleagues.  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?  Do our ‘consumers’ have balanced information about the products available or did they only have access to the one that we produced (Catherine Fisher wrote an excellent blog about policy influence vs evidence informed policy)?  How much do we let the market dictate what we produce and how we produce it?   

Are there opportunities to apply lessons from our colleagues working in markets and value chains to our work on ‘evidence informed decision making’?  Should we be comparing research and oranges?

Elise Wach is a Consultant Evaluation & Learning Advisor with the Impact and Learning Team, at the Institute of Development Studies

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.