Friday, 15 January 2016

Interview - Samar Verma

Dr. Samar Verma
Senior Program Officer
IDRC, New Delhi

Q: What is your understanding of policy impact?

Informed by numerous ways in which policy research institutions and multiple other stakeholders define policy ‘impact’, and learning from our own need to better understand this term, at the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) programme, we know that there are multiple dimensions to this term. Some institutions refer to changes in public policy documents as ‘impact’, while some others prefer to use it to changes in public discourse, or terms of debate among the society at large. Some others believe that limiting impact to changes only at public policy level is restrictive and should be extended to understanding how the changes in public policies are eventually implemented on the ground. Relatively more academic-minded Think Tanks also often include international credible publications as impact. While all of these dimensions are useful and important to capture, we often like to distinguish among policy access, influence and use, and understand the policy impact more as in the ‘use’ of the knowledge generated. The ‘use’ could be by multiple stakeholders, principally the government, but not limited to them. Access and influence, including publications, are seen more as ways to achieve ‘use’ and hence impact.

Q: What are the innovative examples you have observed on institutions making policy impact?

It is truly amazing to see the number of interesting ways in which institutions continue to innovate for policy success, often in very challenging political context, and sometimes even in situations of conflict. Innovations span from diversity in business models (driven by sustainability strategies) and governance structures to institutional systems of recruitment and retention of key personnel (which is by far the most important challenge that think tanks continue to face) and communication & policy engagement strategies. We also have seen institutions collaborating to innovate (where for instance, partner’s strengths are complimentary), which is one of the special features that the TTI encourages among its member institutions. However, the one key factor that drives this all, and remains central to their success, is the dynamism of institutional leadership actively supported by the governing board.

Q: What are the latent opportunities you see on how institutions could make policy impact?

The institutions that we at the TTI work with are a very diverse cohort. Many have been in existence, playing a key role in national government policies for a long time, while several others have emerged and grown rapidly in recent decades. There is a great diversity in size, research themes that they work on, and of course their institutional drivers and leadership. However, in my personal view, I have always felt how institutions could perhaps leverage their strengths significantly more with greater focus on at least two areas, viz., more engaged governing boards and improved institutional communication and outreach strategy.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the nature of environment that makes it conducive for institutions/organisations to effect policy impact?

One clear dimension of the ecosystem is effective demand for good evidence from policy making community and the society at large. That not only spurs generation of more robust evidence, but also creates a more informed and mature society characterised by improved governance and accountability that are bedrocks of democratic politics. In TTI, we have made a modest effort to begin understanding the demand side of public policy making through the Policy Community Surveys (PCS). While these surveys are not designed as statistically valid analysis, they do throw up interesting insights into perceptions of senior national policy making community on quality of public policy making in their countries, their preferences for research-based inputs, and their opinion on the role of multiple supplier types of evidence, including Think Tanks and universities. Conducted at regular intervals, we also expect them to show some temporal trends that might become visible over a period of time. The completed surveys are available on .

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