Spent a couple of enjoyable if tiring days in Ireland last week (they always look after visitors well….). I was there to speak to Ireland’s Development Studies Association on “What’s changed in development in the last five years, and how do we respond?” (here’s the powerpoint). It coincided with the first copies of the new edition of From Poverty to Power coming back from the printer (V exciting), so we did a book signing and sold out, which gets any author hyperventilating. But enough about me – here’s some random impressions of how the development and development studies scene in Ireland compares to the UK.
First the DSAI is new (this was only its 3rd annual conference) and buzzing with energy: 100+ people packed into the venue, and the Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello TD showed up and more or less promised government support for the future. The event had much more NGO and government people attending than the UK equivalent, which feels more distant and academic – in Dublin even the academics were activist/practitioner oriented.
That may be down to history (isn’t everything?). According to Minister Costello (who was launching a new book on teacher training in Africa) ‘there are two things embedded in the Irish psyche: famine and education’. To which I would add missionaries – although the Church is in deep disgrace with a lot of people in Ireland (some even talk about Ireland being a ‘secular society’ – blimey), the missionary tradition is deeply rooted. It has even spawned secular equivalents – the government has a long history of encouraging volunteering, and is now looking at how to enable retiring civil servants to work overseas. A lot of immigration during the boom years has also created a more cosmopolitan society and student body.
And in case you’re interested, here’s the notes for my 10 minute pitch on that old favourite, how to link research and policy.
Q: When does research influence policy?
A: It usually doesn’t. Policy making is seldom rational. But the political process tends to open up to research input at certain times:
- After serious failures, scandals and shocks (eg change of leader, disasters, conflicts)
- In accordance with political timetables (eg drawing up manifestos, leadership elections)
- When something new occurs and the government is looking for guidance (eg a new issue to which it must respond, a new outbreak of disease, or a new technology or institution)
- When significant implementation gaps exist between government policy and reality
Researchers need to get better at identifying such windows of opportunity and responding (e.g. by dropping current work and repackaging previous research relevant to the opportunity) before those windows slam shut again.
How can you maximise your chances of research influence?
Include human stories, killer facts, powerful images (see left) and spend lots of time on the executive summary (no-one will read anything else)
Pull out the ‘so-what’s’ – the things governments, companies or whoever should do differently. If there aren’t any, you have a problem.
Use multiple platforms: one pagers, blogs, op-eds, infographics, twitter etc
Involve the research targets (eg governments) in the design and governance of the research (‘publish it and they will come’ is a rubbish philosophy)
Find out who the research target listens to (parastatal thinktanks, former leaders, captains of industry, their former prof at university) and try and involve them in the research
Pursue alliances with NGOs based on relative strengths – NGOs have field presence and good comms (sometimes); researchers (on a good day) have rigour and credibility and access to academic funding
Strew your paper with awful academic/post-modern jargon. Avoid deconstructing, discoursing, contestation etc
End with no real conclusions except ‘needs more research’, ‘more data’, ‘needs more civil society participation’ and especially ‘everything is complex and/or context specific’.
More on this topic here.