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A researcher in search of a policy maker: reflections on the sustainability of a project aimed at linking policy and research in developing countries

The programme “Spaces for Engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” (SFE) is a six-year joint initiative by Global Development Network’s GDNet’s program and the CIPPECCenter for the Implementation of Public Polices promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC). Many of the lessons learned along these six years have been systematically reflected about in a Lessons learned paper, so as to improve our future work, as well as empower others who are walking or want to walk down the same path.

Started in 2008, the project encompasses six years of intense work aimed at creating diverse range of spaces of engagement with the participation of researchers from policy research institutions that conduct and use research to influence policy, policymakers, and/or decision making processes. For this purpose, SFE has deployed a va­riety of complementary methodologies to engage stakeholders in the field: an ef­fective combination of cutting edge research production, development of training materials, coordination of networks and debates and capacity building (both online and offline) allowed the programme to work with more than 300 researchers, prac­titioners and policy makers from more than 40 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

These various activities were interrelated through a continuous complementarity be­tween theory and practice, building a holistic approach to address the link between research and policy in developing countries. In this sense, knowledge production and sharing and capacity building have always been the “north” of SFE efforts.

Regarding knowledge production, SFE sought to encourage local production of relevant knowledge on the link between research and policy. From its inception we considered that supporting Latin American researchers to produce new knowledge was the key to understanding and tackling the main challenges in terms of promoting the use of research in policymaking in Latin America and other regions facing similar problems and contexts. Furthermore, this knowledge production was always action-oriented, with an emphasis on systematizing lessons learned on the field and using practical formats that easily conveyed what has been learned.Video Spaces for engagement

Especially relevant to SFE’s objectives were the online courses that the program started to develop in 2010, by creating its own e-learning platform. Online courses demonstrated to be a very cost-effective way to raise awareness of emerging R&P practices such as M&E of policy influence as well as to improve researchers’ knowledge of how to better plan and communicate the enhancement of policy influence. Recognized strengths of the courses are applicability of the tools and exercises to the participants’ real challenges and practices, the direct interaction and access to facilitators, and, above all, horizontality and co-production of knowledge: these courses enable more horizontal relationships in terms of learning through the exchange of concrete experiences, challenges and practices among peer organizations.

Now that SFE is coming to an end, both GDNet and CIPPEC share the objective of making results sustainable on the long term to ensure that the knowledge produced will be accessible in the public domain and remains as an installed capacity for both institutions and their partners. For this purpose, both organizations have developed web sites in Spanish and English where people interested in the field will find resources (how-to guides, books and handbooks, bibliographical reviews, interviews and videos) and information regarding the activities delivered by the program.

Both organizations will continue helping researchers reach policy makers, in order to avoid dangerous situations like those endured by this likeable colleague.