Perspectives: Leveraging knowledge generation for policy impact

Policy decisions shape the world around us, impacting everything from education and healthcare to environmental protection and economic development.

Yet, crafting effective policies requires a strong foundation of evidence and knowledge. This is where knowledge generation comes into play.

In this article, there is an exploration of how effectively harnessing the power of knowledge creation can bridge the gap between research and real-world impact.

Strategies for leveraging knowledge generation for policy impact

  • Embed impact evaluation and related evidence resources across operational structures and develop sectoral, regional, and country learning agendas. Development partners should collaborate with select national ministries to develop country-owned learning agendas that target priority knowledge gaps in specific sectors and/or regions.
  • The leadership should mobilize a dedicated resource envelope to implement the strategic plans and/or blueprints.

 Specifically, sector impact evaluation programmes should be scaled up. This involves deploying a team of research and operational staff to collaboratively develop data and analysis, including through impact evaluation, to inform future sector-specific operations. In tandem, country research programs, which help develop the underlying data ecosystem and enhance the capacity to use advanced analytics to improve efficiency in government processes, should be expanded. Increasing the scope of these efforts would help reduce the costs of generating and disseminating knowledge by fostering long-term relationships with client governments and other in-country evidence partners, and in turn, help overcome challenges related to generating and sustaining demand for high-quality evidence.

  • Allocate dedicated resources to routinely finance rigorous evaluation in the country. Development partners need a range of evaluation structures that can inform policy and lending operations to make timely adjustments, while also protecting the integrity and independence of the research to remain credible.

ince impact evaluation currently depends on insufficient and at times uncertain external trust fund resources and fragmented operational interest, new dedicated resources are needed to undertake evaluations more strategically and systematically. The leadership could consider different financing mechanisms, each with their benefits and drawbacks.

There are several options for financing impact evaluation and related evidence activities. One option in low-income countries is to designate a share of the regional International Development Association (IDA) window for data and evaluation functions, including impact evaluation.

Where feasible, this funding could be used to support national evaluation and evidence entities in both the public and private sectors. Dedicating a relatively small portion of IDA resources to evaluation-related functions would enhance the overall impact, and therefore represent good value for money.

Another option in both low- and middle-income countries is to establish a defined allocation of IDA lending towards data and research for all financed operations. Integrating these essential functions across all lending operations would help generate data and evidence that is operationally relevant and responsive to a client country’s decision-making needs. However, this approach could also introduce some risks; bundling knowledge production and lending functions may raise concerns related to conflict of interest when governments are both judge and jury of evaluation results, necessitating the need for an approval structure where researchers review the available evidence base before loan approval.

Third, the development partners for instance World Bank should also continue to produce research and evidence, including through trust funds, in addition to systematically integrating funding for data and evaluation-related activities into operations.

As such, trust funds should be adequately funded to support evaluations and related evidence functions that are not necessarily project-specific, including studies that measure longer-term outcomes beyond the time horizon of a specific operation, are regionally focused, and/or relate to global public goods.

  • Strengthen and centralize tracking and publication systems for data and evidence. Amid the disparate but widespread evaluation efforts being undertaken, a country should move toward (1) tracking all evaluation surveys and impact evaluations conducted—from design to completion—and their costs; (2) making survey data, impact evaluation documentation, and findings publicly available on time; and (3) rethinking the knowledge adaptation and adoption model.

Data repositories can help decrease the cost and increase the speed of knowledge generation. Tapping into tax data, current data, and other administrative data sources would also help make evidence generation faster and cheaper, but requires greater investments in data collection, quality, and infrastructure (including national statistical systems) to link these data sources to each other and make them accessible and usable for researchers and policymakers.

  • Develop formal mechanisms to promote evidence-to-policy partnerships, capacity strengthening, and demand generation.

More equitable evidence-to-policy partnerships would increase the quality, relevance, and visibility of development partner’s research and evaluation work within client governments, national universities, and civil society groups, as well as at the global level. While the development partners already pursue numerous partnerships with external research organizations that play a critical role in capacity strengthening and demand generation, there is scope to expand. The development partners currently contract country-based survey firms through one-off consultancy agreements, including through vendor shortlisting and open competition.

Where feasible, the development partners should shift to providing medium-term financing for select organizations with the potential to build their evaluation capacity and expand their client base to interested governments and other research funders.

The development partners could also co-invest with partner research organizations in local evaluation firms to further develop the enabling ecosystem for evidence generation and use, though current procurement rules would likely need to be changed.

Further, the development partners can provide policy lending to support government-based or semi-autonomous evidence-to-policy initiatives, which are proximate to information on policy windows and ideally structured by design to ensure research questions align with government priorities.

Lastly, creating an internal roster of local partners in client countries including universities, researchers, research consortia, and survey firms would be a helpful resource for staff as they seek to expand the scope of impact evaluations and related evidence activities.

  • Building Partnerships and Collaboration: Foster collaboration between knowledge generators (researchers, academics) and policymakers. This can involve joint research initiatives, knowledge exchange programs, and secondments.

 Furthermore, incorporate diverse perspectives by including stakeholders like industry experts, NGOs, and community representatives in the knowledge generation process.

  • Tailoring knowledge for policymakers: Present research findings in a clear, concise, and policy-relevant format. Highlight actionable recommendations and potential consequences of different policy options. In addition, ensure research agendas address current policy priorities and decision-making timelines of policymakers.
  • Building a culture of evidence-based policymaking: Create formal mechanisms within policymaking bodies to integrate research evidence into decision-making processes. There is also a need to develop robust data collection and analysis systems to provide policymakers with high-quality, real-time information. Encouraging open access to research findings and data to foster public trust and informed debate is also equally important.

In conclusion, the power of knowledge generation lies not just in its creation, but in its translation to actionable insights. By fostering collaboration between knowledge producers and policymakers, employing targeted communication strategies, and building robust knowledge ecosystems, we can bridge the gap between research and real-world impact.  This virtuous cycle of knowledge informing policy and policy driving further research will equip us to tackle complex challenges and create a more informed and equitable future. As the world continues to evolve, our ability to leverage knowledge generation effectively will be paramount in ensuring that policy decisions are not simply well-intentioned, but demonstrably effective.

*Ronald Zvendiya is an independent policy analyst. Contact details: [email protected],

These weekly articles published are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, manging consultants of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Email - [email protected] or mobile No.+263 772 382 852.

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