30 April 2014.
By Rowena Harding.
35 researchers, some policy makers and media, three days, and at least eight hours of meetings a day. What have we learned? In true research style, we could provide a working paper of evidence on our learnings from the conference, but to embrace our new accessible style of communications, here’s a summary of what we feel we have learned, after a short lunch break for reflection!
We need to revise the political settlement framework so that, for example, instead of a country level typology we could develop a framework for understanding policy outcomes at any level of governance. This would entail moving away from “competitive clientelism” and “dominant party” as labels for country level features and towards terms like “hierarchical” and “negotiated”, which apply at any level of a policy domain. Participants considered that the political settlements framework was not being approached in the same way by all projects, and discussed whether it should be revised to allow for greater flexibility.
Some participants felt that transnational, spatial and gender dimensions should be present in every project, particularly the gender dimension which many projects had yet to consider how best to implement. ESID has a gender team which is available for all of the projects to use, so there was a sense that this shortcoming could be remedied over the next phase of research.
Politics of implementation:
Participants felt that we need to know more about implementation. There are projects like NREGA, education, health, growth and urban poverty that have successfully approached implementation and are analysing what has worked and what has not. But we felt much less sure about how to make things work better, in particular when public bureaucracies have the capacity to achieve strong implementation and yet the political environment does not allow them to do so. Moving forward, one of the potential ways to address this is by further examining the role of ideas and how they shape elite commitment to inclusive development.
Communications and uptake:
Definitions of communications and uptake need to be defined and agreed and any activity broadly discussing approaches to achieve this should attempt to stay within these definitions. Social change is ultimately what we are aiming for but this is a long term journey across academic lifetimes, not just one for the duration of the ESID project. Audience awareness is key, as policy makers and other stakeholders with the power to create social change tell us they are drowning in an evidence overload. Communications and uptake needs to be thought about at the onset of research, not just an add-on at the end of the research cycle; new projects are moving in this direction.
And personally… what did we the conference planning team learn from the experience? We are grateful for partnership working – and the University of Cape Town for organising the conference logistics. We’re also grateful for all partners that travelled a considerable distance to tackle a very broad and ambitious agenda. Would we have changed the agenda if we did it again? Yes and no. We needed to give everyone a chance to feed back at this early stage but we realise that such an open forum makes it challenging to remain focussed. We realise that some of our shorter sessions, on gender, capacity building, communications and uptake, could have filled three-day agendas in themselves. But we hope now that people have made introductions, and started these challenging conversations it will be easier to continue them regionally, locally and virtually as the project continues.