Researching the politics of development



60 second snippets: Making your research go further

14 July 2014.
By Rowena Harding.

Academics, researchers and the dreaded policy brief

A policy brief is a concise summary of a particular issue, the policy options to deal with it, and some recommendations on the best option. It is aimed at government policymakers and others who are interested in formulating or influencing policy.
It’s one of many tactics to help research get used by policymakers and can be effective for cold contact across large groups of policymakers; it also helps researchers and supporting teams to get their messages tightened ahead of networking with warm contacts.
But who is responsible for conceiving and writing policy briefs? Should academics be forced to write them because they know their research best? Should communications personnel struggle with the research because they can write accessibly? It’s one of the many debates we see across all our research programmes at ESID and the wider Brooks World Poverty Institute.
While we were tweeting the debate from our Cape Town conference, we got the attention of Dr. Haroon Akram-Lodhi. Dr Akram-Lodhi has been teaching civil servants across Africa and Asia how to write policy briefs for years. His feedback is that while on the one hand they have found the exercise challenging, on the other hand it has been very rewarding for them. Some of the ideas that they have thrown up have also been absolutely first-rate — in the sense that policy briefs should contain policies, not hopes! We spoke to Dr Akram-Lodhi so we could understand the dilemma further.

Why do you think researchers / academics can be hesitant to write policy briefs?

HAL: “Because good policy briefs are actually very hard to write. You need to be to the point, clear, concise and use non-technical language. Some aspects of academic standards can be skipped over, in favour of sustaining a central line of argument in support of what is being advocated. These are not skills that academics really have.”

Why do you think researchers and academics should write policy briefs themselves rather than get others to do that?

HAL: “For precisely these very reasons! They force you to write accessibly, and in a way that is easily communicated to non-academics.”

How would you suggest an academic start writing a policy brief?

HAL: “Have the academic take one central question from something that they have done that has policy relevance and force them to write one-page or 1.5 pages maximum on what the policy should be in light of the question they are asking, and why. Keep quantitative evidence down to something understandable, and use only one piece of quantitative evidence to sustain the argument.
Trained as an economist, the focus of Haroon Akram-Lodhi’s research is on the political economy of agrarian change in developing capitalist countries, on the economic dimensions of gender relations, and on the political ecology of sustainable rural livelihoods and communities in contemporary poor countries.

Want more?

Here’s our pick of the web on policy briefs.