The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) and the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) through the Policy Communication Fellows Program are hosting the 2019-2020 Summer Institute, a workshop seeking to bridge the gap that exists between the research community and policy audiences through effective communication. The workshop began on 6th June 2019 and will run for a week to 12th June 2019 at Sunbird Lilongwe Hotel in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Policy communication content and materials are integral in effectively communicating findings to policy audiences in a way that encourages action, however, there exists several roadblocks and strains in how those that work in research and in policy relate. The workshop hopes to equip fellows with strategies to communicate research to non-technical audiences.

Dr Bernard Onyango, Knowledge Translation Scientist, AFIDEP and a facilitator at the workshop says “At AFIDEP, we are very keen on making evidence matter for sustainable development efforts. Effective communication strategies are at the core of bridging the gap between research, policy and practice. I am therefore quite excited to work with the new cohort of Policy Communication Fellows on their journey to becoming effective communicators so as to achieve impact for their research. I hope that by the end of the programme, they will be equipped with the necessary policy communication skills to push the boundaries of evidence-informed decision-making.”

Policy communication materials address all subject areas related to presenting research findings to policy audiences including but not limited to policy briefs, data visualisations, academic blogs and social media messaging. Identifying the different factors that cause and help sustain the research-to-policy gap, understanding the fundamentals of the policy process, as well as understanding the audience and tools available in engaging the policy community and informing strategic policy communication materials is important in putting out research findings. The Summer Institute will see fellows develop a presentation for a policy audience based on their own research.

The workshop brings together 12 fellows from nine countries with varying expertise and experiences looking to make their contribution and impact in development efforts in different parts of the world. Participants are from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

“One of the main outcomes we hope for is that our participants see opportunities where they can influence policy using their own research and also see career paths that allow them to apply their PhD’s outside of academia and in more practical ways. Where they can contribute to research having more impact continuously on policy and programs. In 10 years of doing this, this is the first time we’ve had someone doing a PhD level degree in the legal field and this is also the first time we’ve had someone from Haiti so those are two firsts for the program this year. Haiti is a country where we need this kind of leadership. It’s exciting to see the regional diversity and the varying technical backgrounds. We’re looking at the same issues but having a legal perspective really adds value to the group,” says Marissa Yeakey, consultant and former program director for capacity building, PRB and workshop facilitator.

The Summer Institute is facilitated by Dr Rose Oronje, Director, Public Policy and Communications, AFIDEP, Dr Bernard Onyango, Knowledge Translation Scientist, AFIDEP, Hleziwe Hara, Knowledge Translation Officer, AFIDEP, Marissa Yeakey, consultant and former program director for capacity building, PRB, and Laura Hall, policy analyst on the People, Health, Planet team in International Programs, PRB.

Expectations:

“I want to not only be able to communicate my findings to academia but also to the people that influence the making of policies for the response to sexual violence in conflict areas, as well as reach the beneficiaries themselves. I’m looking forward to the 60-second elevator pitch session because that will help me practice to disseminate my research in a limited time” – Catherine Akurut, PhD Fellow, Nelson Mandela University.

“I’m hoping to learn how to translate my research for use in policy and decision-making. ” – Emmanuel Olamijuwon, PhD Fellow, University of the Witwatersrand.

“ I am looking forward to understanding more about the policymaking process because as a researcher I learn a lot about the research methods. My area of interest is family planning so I know a lot about data collection, the research and what the major issues are, but I don’t know how I can communicate that to policymakers and how they can use the findings I generate and put them to action. I’m especially looking forward to the session on social media because I think in this day and age social media is really important in terms of getting access to policymakers. Now you can just tag a politician or the secretary of health or tweet them about a burning issue with relevant and actionable evidence so it can be taken up. It is not only policymakers but also the media, the people that are working in digital and print media they’re always looking for stories and its easier. It is beneficial for both parties because as a researcher I can share something concrete with them, they can make a story from that and share it on their platform. That’s how you can create buzz about certain issues. So I feel that social media is a very strong platform and we as researchers need to learn more about it” – Saman Naz, PhD Fellow, Pennsylvania State University.

“What this course is going to offer us is the skills to communicate in the best way our evidences because it is different to have a twenty page article or to have a thesis of two hundred pages but you cannot expect a politician to take time to read your two hundred pages of your thesis work and then make decisions. There are ways to communicate, to present the findings and that can be useful for decision making. We will learn techniques, we will learn how to elaborate them; and the most important thing is that we are going to have contact with local researchers and policy entrepreneurs and learn first hand, the relevant priorities and the political landscapes of Africa.” – Fato Fene, PhD  Fellow, National Institute of Public Health Mexico.

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