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Getting research into policy is a political process – 3ie-LIDC Seminar 'Getting Research into Policy - Politics and Institutions'

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:30 to 19:00

The March seminar in the 3ie-LIDC Series ‘What Works in International Development’ took up the topic of ‘Getting Research into Policy’ once again, this time focusing on politics and institutions.  

Justin Parkhurst, Senior Lecturer in Global Health Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, highlighted a number of problems with the currently dominant view of evidence-based policy making. While everyone recognises the importance of evidence, current calls for the use of evidence in policy making remove politics from the equation. However, ignoring political considerations creates the risk of 1) skewing agendas to issues that are well-researched and well-funded, 2) prioritising short term impacts over long term ones, 3) obscuring the intrinsic bias of politics (thus making it harder to mitigate against it), and finally, 4) undermining local governance and decision-making. Parkhurst argued that one needs to see the use of evidence in policy making as a political process in itself, as it involves choosing between potentially competing outcomes and is influenced by competing and contested values. Evidence exists for a range outcomes and one needs to consider multiple evidence bases in political decisions, as well as take into account local values. Depoliticised calls for ‘evidence based policy’ cannot address these issues and may obscure unseen political outcomes.  Parkhurst advocated for institutional development that would strengthen the local capacity to use evidence in line with good practices  and in a way that is accountable to and representative of local citizens.

Kirsty Newman, Research Uptake Manager at DFID, stressed the importance of finding a balance between getting research out of academia and into use, and pressurising researchers to ‘push their research out’ at all costs. She observed that policy makers, whether at DFID or in developing country governments, often struggle to use research as they lack sufficient understanding and capacity of the research production process. Therefore, DFID is working to strengthen that capacity to use research in the best possible ways, internally and externally, supporting both the supply side (the production of research) and the demand side (the uptake of research). Newman concluded by describing research and policy making as an ecosystem,  a pond where there is room for a range of different and mutually interacting activities.

About the speakers:

Dr. Justin Parkhurst is Senior Lecturer in Global Health Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and heads the GRIP-Health (Getting Research Into Policy in Health) research programme - a 5-year programme of work studying the politics of evidence and the importance of institutions in the use of evidence for health policy making.

Dr. Kirsty Newman is Research Uptake Manager with the Research and Evidence Division of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). She has a PhD in molecular virology and worked as a research fellow in the immunology department at LSHTM from 2004 to 2008. Since that time she has been working on capacity building programmes at the Wellcome Trust, the UK Parliament and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications.

Download the presentations: Justin Parkhurst, Kirsty Newman
Listen to the audio recording (with moving slides)


This seminar is part of the 3ie-LIDC Seminar Series 'What works in international development'.