Policymaker relationships

RDI Network
August 2021
6 min read

Public policy is a major driving force for how international development priorities, programming and funding happens. Policies are developed and influenced through a myriad of relationships and processes and can benefit from the latest research to ensure effectiveness and justice. For your research to inform policies, you need to understand and engage with the actors and planning cycles of different levels of government (local, national, multilateral).

  • Should you be influencing policy? If your research does not have policy relevance, then you can find other ways to find impact. If it could have implications for policy, you can build that into your research design from the beginning. You also have a responsibility for how policy changes may affect those directly or indirectly involved in your research. Consider whether it could have a negative impact on individuals or groups of people and proactively reach out to them before working with the government.
  • Have clear policy recommendations. Understanding what you are asking to change, in clear and tangible ways, can resonate with governments rather than standalone research results. This will fit your research into the legislative and funding environment they work in, with a before and after clearly articulated.. Best practice is a great aim, however governments could find it more reasonable to consider ‘best-fit’ or good enough reforms that understand the power and resourcing limitations they face.
  • Be constructive. Be realistic about how the government functions in a political and media landscape that has to consider differing views. Different actors will want to protect their constituency and avoid negative coverage. This has implications for your work, and you may find success in making policy changes, if you can show how it builds on achievements so far, rather than represent a failure on their part. You can also focus on why it is important to the national interest, their electorate or to their colleagues.
  • Find a champion. While it will be vital to map out who all the various actors are, and where they sit in their support of your proposal, finding your champions will be the focus of this exercise. They may themselves be decision makers or have influence over the process. Allies have a stake in your topic area and run with the recommendations themselves, which can be a powerful way of creating change.
  • Know when your windows of opportunity are. Timelines in policy making can be different to yours. For the country or other level of government you are targeting, understand their planning cycles. Budgets can be decided at the same time each year, election promises are more likely to be developed at a particular point in the cycle, and reviews may be slated for particular years. That said, many changes and announcements are made quickly, in response to major events or powerful movements and ideas, so be ready for those opportunities.
  • Realise it can take a lot of time, and specialist expertise. Informing policy changes can be a big ask for individuals and NGOs. Know what the basics you can achieve are, such as open access to results in non-academic language. Leverage other personnel and resources that can elevate those basics, such as an internal or umbrella team with specialist advocacy experience. And pick your larger battles for greater influence.

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