Posted by Kimberley Meijers on February 1, 2017 at 12:13 pm
The “Young Investigators NGO Tour” is an initiative of Share-Net Netherlands that aims to offer a two-way platform for young investigators (including PhD researchers, Post-docs, researchers within NGOs and institutes) to disseminate their work, as well as for NGO practitioners to share their practices; and then to jointly provide constructive feedback and discuss strategies to strengthen the link between research, policy and practice. To achieve this, the Share-Net Young Investigators network co-organises a series of Stops with interested NGOs, whereby Young Investigators visit NGO offices.
The third NGO Stop, in this series of Young Investigators NGO Tour, was co-organized with the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) and took place as follows:
Date: December 7th, 2016
Location: Royal Tropical Institute, AMSTERDAM
Objective of the meeting: Strengthening linkages between research and practice
Activities: Three young researchers presented their research to NGO practitioners from KIT. After the presentations, there was time for an in-depth discussion focusing on linking research, policy and practice.
Please click here for an overview of the presented abstracts: Abstracts NGO Stop Young Investigators at KIT
The three PhD students presented three very different types of research, ranging from qualitative research, to an interventional study, and a systematic review including analytical modeling. After their presentations, we discussed the value of conducting different types of research and how they may interlink, add and benefit from each other. From this discussion, we concluded that although research that is built on a theoretical framework is usually considered more credible and of higher quality, each research has societal relevance and the potential to influence policy and practice.
It was discussed how linkages can be made between big, often quantitative, studies, like RCT and modeling, and in-depth, often qualitative, studies that try to explain macro-level phenomena by understanding individual reasoning and behavior at the micro level. Although the golden standard of quality research in public health for many is still RCT research, there are other very interesting possibilities, including different types of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research. For instance, we discussed that RCT studies are often not appropriate for studying marginalized groups because it is difficult and usually unethical to randomize vulnerable persons. Nowadays researchers, policy makers and practitioners have started to value other types of research as well that are more fit to study these groups and for understanding individual reasoning and behavior. Public health researchers often use an applied approach which sometimes even leaves out theoretical thinking. Although the government used to merely focus on quantitative evidence-based results, such as RCTs, they are fortunately increasingly interested in a mixed methods approach.
Different Types of Knowledge
Participants agreed that there is a need for research to inform policy but that, in reality, knowledge derived from research is not the only type of knowledge feeding into policy recommendations. Other types of knowledge, such as “common knowledge”, local wisdom and tacit knowledge should not be overlooked or considered inferior in relation to research findings. In examples where policy was only based on research, and the local knowledge and cultural context was not taken into account, the effects were not merely positive. Research enables a thought process but results should be handled with caution because there are prevailing local factors influencing society that policy makers should not ignore. In other words: policy makers should not look for what works within research, but for what works in practice. This means that research results should be embedded within their context rather than be replicated one-to-one from one context into another and that local support structures should not be undermined.
The fields of research, policy and practice can seem very static from an outsiders’ perspective. To facilitate linkages between these fields, researchers should take up their responsibility to share their results beyond the scientific community. A researcher can be an activist in many different ways. Researchers should ask themselves the question whether they feel they can use their research as an instrument to create a positive health outcome. To do so, it is important for researchers to position themselves and to clearly explain the concepts they use to the persons they interact with.
Linking Research to Policy & Practice
So how can researchers take their research further? This would need researchers to devote more effort into making sure that their research outcomes are understandable and accessible for policy makers, practitioners and sometimes even the general public. But how can a researcher be sure that policy makers and/or practitioners who read their research, take away the same lessons and recommendations as the key message the researcher wanted to get across? For instance, researchers could prepare themselves by thinking ahead which audience(s) might be interested in their research. Consequently, they may translate their findings into appropriate formats and language, in order to get their message across. A policy brief can be an useful tool for researchers to make their research more accessible to policy makers. Another option is for researchers to present their research outcomes at varying occasions to varying audiences, including their own students. This means that some researchers need to step out of their comfort zone by not only focusing on publishing in renowned journals but also on the uptake of their research by policy makers, practitioners or even the general community.
At the same time, researchers should be realistic about what is feasible and appropriate. Is it practical and feasible to disseminate to all audiences? For instance, it may not always be necessary or useful to write policy briefs. Using a participatory approach from the start is another way of maintaining a close relationship with policy makers, such as the Ministry of Health and/or Foreign Affairs. This means that researchers keep policy makers in the loop during the whole research process: from the moment of approval, the onset of their research, throughout the data collection and analyzing their results. In this way, keeping policy makers continuously informed can create a feeling of co-ownership, which will increase chances of research findings being used to inform policy making.
Although policy makers are important in policy decision-making processes, it is also important to inform the general public because change is more sustainable when it comes from within. But how do we inform practitioners and the general community? And how do we mobilize them? Publications in academic journals are usually rather expensive and not accessible to the general public. Therefore, a multilateral approach is needed. For instance, by using a participatory approach that involves national staff or the general community in the actual research. This can smoothen the uptake of results and usually has a higher success rate. Output funding and bonding workshops are other options to increase linkages between research, policy and practice.