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Policy briefs as a tool for communicating development research


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Policy briefs as a tool for communicating development research

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This slidecast, prepared for the Third roundtable of the Fostering Global Responsibility Network ( in Budapest, Hungary, goes through the basics of how to plan and produce high quality policy briefs.

This slidecast, prepared for the Third roundtable of the Fostering Global Responsibility Network ( in Budapest, Hungary, goes through the basics of how to plan and produce high quality policy briefs.


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Policy briefs as a tool for communicating development research

  1. 1. Policy briefs as a tool for development communication Jeff Knezovich 23 April 2009 – Budapest, Hungary
  2. 2. Today’s objectives <ul><li>To gain a good understanding of the use, content, structure and design of policy briefs. </li></ul><ul><li>To work together to define clear messages and develop the basic elements of a regional policy brief for the network. </li></ul>
  3. 3. GROUP EXERCISE – Becoming familiar with policy briefs, Part I <ul><li>Divide into four groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Each group should have copies of a sample policy brief in covered folders for each member. DON’T LOOK YET! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>When I say ‘ GO ’, you will have TWO MINUTES to read through the policy brief. </li></ul><ul><li>After two minutes, you will be asked to close the folder and write down (in groups) the answers to the following questions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What issue(s) does the policy brief discuss? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why is the issue important? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What recommendations are made? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give an example of one piece of evidence used to justify those recommendations. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Each group will present their answers. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Outline of presentation <ul><li>An introduction to policy briefs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What are they? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why produce them? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Who are they for? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Planning your policy brief </li></ul><ul><li>Content and structure of a policy brief </li></ul><ul><li>Design and layout of a policy brief </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion </li></ul>
  6. 6. WHAT IS A POLICY BRIEF? Two types of brief The PB as memo The PB as publication Internally focused Externally focused Demand-driven Supply-driven Narrowly focused Broadly targeted A general overview of the subject showing multiple opinions or view points Focuses on research that supports the main argument of the brief Might give multiple, and even competing, solutions Gives strong, clear and coordinated policy recommendations or implications
  7. 7. WHAT IS A POLICY BRIEF? <ul><li>A concise, standalone document focussing on a particular issue requiring policy attention that: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Explains and conveys the ‘urgency’ of the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Presents policy recommendations or implications on the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gives evidence to support the reasoning behind those recommendations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Points the reader to additional resources on the issue </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. WHY POLICY BRIEFS? The research/ policy divide <ul><li>Research-based evidence can contribute to policies that have a dramatic positive impact. </li></ul><ul><li>Policy briefs can help bridge the large gaps between the research and policy communities that exist because of: </li></ul>Divergent needs & pressures regarding information usage Specialised research expertise vs. general knowledge Different time horizons for each community Multiple and competing influences upon policy decisions
  9. 9. WHY POLICY BRIEFS? The research/ policy divide Source: Phil Davies Impact to Insight Meeting, ODI, 2005 Evidence Experience & Expertise Judgement Resources Values and Policy Context Habits & Tradition Lobbyists & Pressure Groups Pragmatics & Contingencies
  10. 10. WHY POLICY BRIEFS? The research/ policy divide <ul><li>ODI/ Sci-DevNet survey with policy makers in field of Science, Technology and Innovation found: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>50% of policy-makers and 65% of researchers thought dissemination of research findings for policy uptake insufficient </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>79% respondents ranked policy briefs as valuable communications tool </li></ul></ul>Source: Jones, N and C Walsh (2008) ‘Policy briefs as a communication tool for development research’. ODI Background Note. London: ODI.
  11. 11. WHY POLICY BRIEFS? <ul><li>“ I often read policy briefs for both my official and non-official needs. I cannot think of going forward without consulting policy briefs. It expands my knowledge as I get an opportunity to understand what is happening around me.” </li></ul><ul><li>(Policy-maker, India) </li></ul>
  12. 12. WHO ARE POLICY BRIEFS FOR? Author(s) Researchers Policy-oriented research institutes Think tanks Civil society organisations Advocacy organisations International NGOs Multilateral organisations Government bodies Networks/ coalitions of any of the above Audience(s) Non-academic/ non-specialist Decision-makers who may have varying degrees of expertise on a given issue In certain cases may target development practitioners Not usually targeted at the general public
  13. 13. PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: The RAPID Framework Source: Court, J and J Young (2004) ‘Bridging research and policy in international development’. ODI Briefing Paper. London: ODI. The political context – political and economic structures and processes, culture, institutional pressures, incremental vs radical change The evidence – credibility, the degree it challenges received wisdom, research approaches and methodology, simplicity of the message, how it is packaged etc External Influences Socio-economic and cultural influences, donor policies The links between policy and research communities – networks, relationships, power, competing discourses, trust, knowledge
  14. 14. PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: Framing evidence <ul><li>Establish credibility </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Messenger </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Highlight author’s qualifications </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Emphasise links (organisation with well known brand, networks, respected funders) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Evidence itself </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>May need to describe research methods </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Position evidence in existing discourses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Does it challenge existing ideas or beliefs? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can it piggy-back onto successful ‘campaigns’? </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: Considering context <ul><li>Context helps define the AUDIENCE for a policy brief both in terms of: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Who is being targeted </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How they perceive the issue. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Questions to keep in mind when thinking about your audience: </li></ul><ul><li>How much do they already know about the issue? </li></ul><ul><li>How open are they to your message(s)? </li></ul><ul><li>Do they have existing interest in the issue? </li></ul><ul><li>What questions do they need answered? </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Policy-makers are not a homogenous group. </li></ul><ul><li>Factors that determine uptake of evidence include: </li></ul><ul><li>Level of position (national vs sub-national) </li></ul><ul><li>Point in the policy/project cycle ( agenda setting vs implementation vs M&E) of the issue </li></ul>PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: Considering context
  17. 17. PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: Considering context When do policy-makers use scientific information in the policy cycle?
  18. 18. PLANNING POLICY BRIEFS: Thinking through links <ul><li>Collaborating on research and content can help make the evidence presented seem more credible. </li></ul><ul><li>Connections can be important way to disseminate the brief once published. </li></ul>
  19. 19. CONTENT OF A POLICY BRIEF Main elements <ul><li>A good policy brief: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Explains and conveys the ‘urgency’ of the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Presents policy recommendations or implications on the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gives evidence to support the reasoning behind those recommendations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Points the reader to additional resources on the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is only two, four or a MAXIMUM of eight pages (that’s around 1200, 2200 or 4000 words) </li></ul>
  20. 20. CONTENT OF A POLICY BRIEF How to develop main elements
  21. 21. CONTENT OF A POLICY BRIEF An objective voice? <ul><li>Do present evidence-informed opinions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t shy away from opinion and value judgements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do signpost which content is subjective and which is objective </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF <ul><li>Executive statement </li></ul><ul><li>Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>Methodology </li></ul><ul><li>Results and conclusions </li></ul><ul><li>Implications or Recommendations </li></ul><ul><li>References and useful resources </li></ul>
  23. 23. STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: Executive statement <ul><li>Designed to give an overview of the content of the brief </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should contain ALL standard elements of a policy brief </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emphasis on capturing the attention of the reader </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Appears on the first page </li></ul><ul><li>Usually written last </li></ul><ul><li>This policy brief outlines actions the Tunisian government can take to reduce the remaining barriers to entry, exit and competition in the Tunisian manufacturing industries, with the aim of stimulating a greater dynamism and flexibility than the market has yet to achieve. It concludes that policies should be considered to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>  Work with Statistics bureaus to develop and collect information on entry and exit and other indicators of firm dynamics. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduce entry barriers by developing market access and increasing the access of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to financial resources. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>‘ Entry and Exit Dynamics and Economic Performance in Tunisian Manufacturing Industries’, University of Tunis 2009 </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Designed to capture the attention of the reader </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Explains the importance/ urgency of the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creates curiosity about the rest of the brief </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Gives a brief overview of the conclusions or the direction of the rest of the brief </li></ul><ul><li>Outlines the structure for the rest of the brief </li></ul>STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: Introduction The increased fear of a pandemic at the current time is due to the fact that the H5N1 strain causing the outbreak is capable of mutating rapidly and acquiring genes from viruses infecting other animal species, including humans. If the new virus contained sufficient human influenza virus genes, direct transmission from one person to another (human-to-human) could occur, heralding a possible influenza pandemic. The current H5N1 strain causes high mortality among humans, with mortality rates exceeding 50 per cent in most countries. AN EFFECTIVE REGIONAL RESPONSE TO THE THREAT OF A PANDEMIC UN ESCAP Issue N.1 2005
  25. 25. <ul><li>Designed to strengthen the credibility of the brief by explaining how the findings and recommendations were arrived at. </li></ul><ul><li>Might include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Description of the issue and context of the investigation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Description of the research and analysis activities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What methods were used to conduct the study? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Who undertook the data collection and analysis? </li></ul></ul></ul>STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: Methodology <ul><li>TIPS and TRICKS </li></ul><ul><li>This section is not always applicable – make sure it’s relevant before including it </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid overly technical language </li></ul><ul><li>Highlight unique methods or data collection </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on methodological issues related to the main messages/ recommendations </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Designed as an overview of the findings/ facts </li></ul><ul><li>Constructed around the line(s) of argument behind the policy recommendations </li></ul><ul><li>Move between general and specific information </li></ul><ul><li>Base conclusions on evidence, data and findings </li></ul><ul><li>Make clear, balanced and defensible assertions </li></ul>STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: Results and conclusions Do The Electric Fences Work? Overall, it was found that although the electric fencing does help…it is not capable of completely eliminating conflict. In each …area…technical as well as socioeconomic factors affect…success. Technical failures mainly affected the early fences…Other problems resulted from failure to take into account elephant behavior and distribution patterns. Elephants and Electric Fences: A Study From Sri Lanka. EEPSEA 2005-PB11
  27. 27. <ul><li>Implications </li></ul><ul><li>What policy changes or actions do the results point to? </li></ul><ul><li>Supported by evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Must be actionable </li></ul><ul><li>Less direct than recommendations </li></ul><ul><li>Useful when advice not requested or not welcome </li></ul>STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: Implications vs recommendations <ul><li>Recommendations </li></ul><ul><li>What does the researcher think should happen? </li></ul><ul><li>Supported by evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Must be actionable </li></ul><ul><li>Describe clearly what should happen next </li></ul><ul><li>State as precise steps </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>Especially when synthesising information from multiple sources, always cite them appropriately and be sure to add a list of references </li></ul><ul><li>Include seminal works in the area so those looking for information can easily find out more on the topic </li></ul><ul><li>Good opportunity to direct readers to other resources produced by the same author/ organisation/ network </li></ul>STRUCTURE OF A POLICY BRIEF: References and Useful resources
  29. 29. <ul><li>In the same groups as before, open the policy briefs and re-read them more thoroughly. </li></ul><ul><li>After everyone has re-read the policy brief, discuss the following questions in groups: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What one element or idea of this policy brief sticks out in your mind? Why? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What did you like about the content of this policy brief? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What about the content of the policy brief could have been improved? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What did you like about the design/ format of this policy brief? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What about the design/ format of this policy brief could have been improved? </li></ul></ul>GROUP EXERCISE – Becoming familiar with policy briefs, Part II
  30. 30. DESIGN AND LAYOUT OF A POLICY BRIEF <ul><ul><li>In addition to having solid content, policy briefs should also be visually engaging </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Generates interest in the policy brief </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Design can help highlight key facts or concepts </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Policy-makers often spend just 30-60 minutes reading information on an issue </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Can convey authority, credibility, weight and tone of the piece </li></ul></ul></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>Titles, standfirsts and headings </li></ul><ul><li>Photographs </li></ul><ul><li>Graphs and charts </li></ul><ul><li>Text boxes </li></ul><ul><li>Pull quotes </li></ul><ul><li>Side bars </li></ul>DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Common techniques
  32. 32. DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Titles, standfirsts and headings <ul><li>Titles: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should convey the main idea of the policy brief and include key words! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make catchy/ memorable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>[TITLE]: [Subtitle] is a common structure, but questions can also be effective </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Standfirst </li></ul><ul><ul><li>One sentence that is designed to generate interest in the paper </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Usually appears directly below the title, and the two should complement each other </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Especially useful if the title is very straightforward </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Headings </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To help readers quickly find the information they need, use clear sections and headings </li></ul></ul>
  33. 33. DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Photographs <ul><li>‘ A picture is worth a thousand words!’ </li></ul><ul><li>Bold, vibrant colours can help attract readers </li></ul><ul><li>Can be used to make the issue more real or personal </li></ul><ul><li>Respect copyrights , but explore the Creative Commons </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the ‘Advanced Search’ on , you can limit your searches to CC photos only! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can also search on </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. <ul><li>Present information in a clear, memorable way </li></ul><ul><li>Particularly good for highlighting general trends or significant differences </li></ul><ul><li>Should go beyond information provided in the text to give a more complete picture </li></ul>DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Graphs and Charts
  35. 35. DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Text boxes <ul><li>A chance to tell stories to help the reader connect with the issue </li></ul><ul><li>Useful if there is only enough room in the main text to remain at a general level </li></ul><ul><li>May be used to call attention to a bulleted list </li></ul><ul><li>A good place to add extra information that is not critical to the main text but aids in the overall understanding of it </li></ul>
  36. 36. DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Pull quotes <ul><li>Help reiterate key points or messages </li></ul><ul><li>Can be placed in the middle of the text/page itself or put in the sidebar </li></ul>
  37. 37. <ul><li>Although not necessary, sidebars can be a useful way of physically framing the text and giving shape to the document </li></ul><ul><li>Also useful for including extra information such as: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Description of the project, organisation or publication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Copyright and contact information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pull quotes and Useful resources </li></ul></ul>DESIGN OF POLICY BRIEFS: Sidebar TIPS AND TRICKS Can gain space by having other elements run into the sidebar.
  38. 38. CONCLUSION Source: Adapted from Jones, N and C Walsh (2008) Key ingredients of effective policy briefs Evidence Persuasive Argument Clear purpose; cohesive argument; quality of evidence; transparency of evidence underpinning policy recommendations (e.g. a single study, a review of available evidence, etc.) Authority Messenger (individual or organisation) has credibility in eyes of policy-maker Policy context Audience context specificity Written to address specific context and needs of target audience; Actionable Recommendations Information linked to specific policy processes, clear and feasible recommendations on policy steps to be taken Engagement Presentation of evidence-informed opinions Presentation of author ’ s own views about policy implications of research findings; but clear identification of argument components that are opinion based Clear Language/ Writing Style Understandable by educated, non-specialist Appearance/Design Visually engaging, presentation of information through charts, graphs, photos

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