SLU news

Making researchers part of the policy-making process: A workshop in Nairobi

Published: 15 March 2019
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There is a widespread notion that research results are poorly communicated and not sufficiently applicable in real life among policy makers. Therefore, AgriFoSe2030 recently arranged a course in Kenya. The aim was to provide researchers with tools on how to communicate their results better to policy-makers.

– If I communicate with a policy-maker, a farmer or a colleague I will not put the information in the same way, I have to use different tools and methods to pass on the information for the receiver to understand my message.

These were the words of Stefanie Mvodo, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Buea in Cameroon, after participating in the recent AgriFoSe2030 course on how to bridge science, policy and practice.

Is research applicable in real life?

“We need more evidence-based practices and make sure research is informing policy-processes. To get there, researchers need stronger incentives for policy engagement, and policy-makers need to nurture a culture of scientific learning” - Anders Ekbom, experienced trainer at the course and Deputy Director at the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development, Sweden.

On the policy side in general there is a widespread notion that research results are poorly communicated and not sufficiently applicable in real life. And on the research side, researcher often don’t know how to inform policy-makers how their findings should be implemented.

A group of 28 researchers from 9 different African countries gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2019 to participate in the AgriFoSe2030 course Translating science into policy and practice. The aim of the course was to provide researchers with tools on how to better communicate their results and inform policy-making.

Anders Ekbom means that one of the main reasons for the gap between research and policy is that researchers typically lack incentives and resources to engage with policy-making. It is often perceived as something that hampers career promotions, reduces time for writing publications and can jeopardize the researcher’s integrity and independence.

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The participants in the workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Linda Hansson.
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Discussions on the urgent need for agricultural policy processes to incorporate research. Photo: Linda Hansson.
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As the participating researchers were all working on different aspects of agriculture and food security in Africa, there were many opportunities for networking. Photo: Linda Hansson.
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The changes in the African continent – population increases, rapid urbanization, climate change and rising food import bills and the implications of these changes for the agricultural sector were discussed. Photo: Linda Hansson.

Agricultural policy processeses urgently need to incorporate research

“Policies need to be based on empirical data and that can only be obtained by research, so researchers definitely need to be part of the policy-making process. That idea was not anywhere near me, until I entered this training.” - Dorothy Nampanzira Kalule, lecturer and researcher at Makerere University, Uganda.

The researchers that took part of the training are all working on different aspects of agriculture and food security in Africa. The African continent faces many changes ahead – population increases, rapid urbanization, climate change and rising food import bills to mention some – which provide both challenges and opportunities for the agricultural sector. To meet the changes in a sustainable way, the need for agricultural policy processes to incorporate research is urgent. 

Communicating with strong messages

During the course, the researchers were trained in how to communicate their results to an audience without scientific background using simpler language and strong messages, how to map stakeholders important for implementing their findings, and how to reach out to media to get their messages acknowledged by the public. 

“We have a lot of information that is currently not being used in policy-making, and we are all part of institutions with a lot of bureaucracy that makes policy interaction difficult. So, we started collaborating with a national NGO that has a large policy network. Now we can reach out to policy-makers and impact the government to form policies based on the findings from our research” - Rasel Madaha, lecturer and researcher, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania

Not only did the training equip the researchers with new tools - the training also gave instant results. Rasel Madaha, lecturer and researcher at the Department of Agricultural Extension and Community Development at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, explained how the researchers from Tanzania came together to form a research group that would interact with policy-makers and practitioners directly.

The group has created a website to get larger visibility for their research, and the idea is to start making an impact as soon as they are back in their home country.

Bridging the gap between policy and research

More work is yet to be done to bridge the gap between policy and research, but this course is an important first step to train the researchers in how to better engage with policy-makers and practitioners.

Find out more about the course and the policy-research gap in this short film.


Written by Linda Hansson.

Page editor: cajsa.lithell@slu.se