Convening a ‘write shop’ – an innovative way of getting evidence into policy

How do we inspire busy policy advisers to take time to absorb the latest research? And how do we ensure that, when they are using evidence, we can record the process and impact that this is having?

At a meeting held at Oxford University in September 2015, DFID policy advisers had a unique opportunity to spend time with Young Lives researchers to discuss more collaborative ways of getting evidence into policy. The UK Forum for International Education and Training conference in Oxford meant that a stellar line-up of education researchers would be in town, including Santiago Cueto, Zoe James, Ginny Morrow, Caine Rolleston, Abhijeet Singh, Renu Singh and Martin Woodhead. In parallel a team of DFID advisers were presenting papers at the event.

So we asked ourselves, could we make the most of this opportunity to bring everyone together to document the use of evidence in action?

Members of both groups agreed that the idea sounded interesting. Some of the DFID advisers were intrigued to meet people whose work they had read, or to tick the box of ‘continual professional development’; others were inspired to learn more about the Young Lives methods and findings. For the research team, DFID were making more explicit demands to show how their work was influencing policy, so perhaps building these alliances would help to reveal new impacts and provide smoother entry points at the country level.

So the matchmaking began. First we shared ‘personal data’ in the form of biographies, then a grid of shared interests and preferred issues, and finally we met for the first ‘blind date’. It was with considerable apprehension that Martin Woodhead convened the meeting in the historic Queen Elizabeth House.

Would people get on? Would they agree on the issues to write about? Would they feel pressured into a writing relationship they weren’t ready for?

There was much debate about how much time we should leave for writing on the day – and we resisted the traditional academic model of speaker sessions as a mode of operating. Eventually an agenda emerged with a mix of informal presentations, plenary discussion and dedicated time for writing. And then on the day, the point was eventually reached when we needed to make a decision about whether to break into writing pairs. Encouraged by the positive spirit in the room – and his engaging Norwegian ‘writing partner’ – the DFID Head of Profession encouraged everyone to take a bold approach and put pen to paper there and then.

We started intense discussions in small groups and a range of products were begun, including ‘insight articles’ (for the DFID intranet) and a series of blogs. Time will tell whether any of these develop into more sustained writing partnerships, but the jointly defined objectives of the day were certainly surpassed:

  1. Achieve greater in-depth understanding of the research/policy opportunities in Young Lives, especially related to education;
  2. Strengthen collaboration and mutual learning between DFID Advisers and the Young Lives team;
  3. Produce short research-to-policy articles or blogs and develop partnerships for potential future writing opportunities.

The paired groupings of DFID staff and Young Lives staff have since worked quickly to put together a series of collaborative blogs to capitalise on the success of this event. This includes pieces discussing current themes within education, including gender inequalities, non-state provision of education, and providing education during humanitarian crises. Another blog will highlight practical problems in the methodology for results-based financing, an important issue across all education programming. And a final blog discusses ways to improve collaboration between researchers and policymakers – which will resonate with both communities.

Word spread about the event and DFID advisers who couldn’t attend have joined in the ‘pairing’, with new work on research ethics – one unanticipated product – also emerging. We will be publishing the blogs from our ‘write-shop’ through the HEART blog over the next few weeks. We hope that this experimental approach may lead to exciting new ways of working more closely with researchers – we’re keen to hear your views.

This blog is part of a series of blogs written by DFID Education Advisers in collaboration with Young Lives researchers. Others in the series include:

By Rachel Hinton, Senior Policy Adviser, DFID


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