Friday, 15 January 2016

Aditi Bulletin Issue 4

Note from Managing Editor
This issue of Aditi focusses on Policy impact. What does it mean? How is it measured? This has been one of the most beautiful experiences. It was very useful to read a lot, and I would like to place on record that almost all the people/organisations that we contacted came forth with excellent outputs and articles. They were honest in sharing their thoughts. The Editorial Board as always, were enthusiastic in reviewing, providing feedback and encouraging. One feather in our cap - a French version of Aditi will also be published in the coming week. We are exploring the possibilities of a Spanish version. 


Managing Editor, Aditi

The elusive quest for policy impact – and the best way of measuring it

Enrique Mendizabal
Founder of On Think Tanks

It is rather difficult to get through a conversation about Think Tanks, with thinktankers, without considering the issue of policy impact. If Think Tanks differentiate themselves from other research-based organisations in their desire to, at the very least, inform policy, how then can they tell if they are being successful?

Over the years, On Think Tanks has addressed this issue from a number of angles and perspectives.

We’ve argued that measuring influence, and quantifying it, is not possible. And that if it were, doing it properly would be so expensive that it would be prohibitive for most Think Tanks –and that they should rather use those funds to do more research or to invest more in their communications.

It would be prohibitively expensive because it would demand tracking down (and somehow reporting and measuring) all possible paths of influence, including (but not only) influence through consultancy, influence through the public agenda, influence through the developing of skills of future cadres of policymakers, influence through the work of other researchers, etc. Many of these pathways are impossible to foresee.

It would also be immodest to do so, since the think tank (and the researchers) would have to assume they and only they were important and influential to merit an account of their impact. They’d also have to all-but-forget about those who influenced them: their funders, other Think Tanks, their researchers’ teachers and mentors, etc. They would have to forget, too, that, as in cases of failure to influence, luck plays a significant role in any “story of success”.

We’ve argued, too, that claiming influence is a political act –and one that Think Tanks should be careful of. It is, after all, an exercise to claim power for us, from others. By claiming to have, through their “excellent research” come up with the idea that a ministry adopted, they are, in essence, claiming that the ministry didn’t. By claiming that they convinced them to adopt it through their “excellent communications”, they are, also, claiming that they influenced them. Policymakers become passive actors in the policy process; whereas the Think Tanks take the leading role in the story.

The quest for measuring influence turns into an effort to present Think Tanks as far more powerful than they are; it turns into an effort to award Think Tanks a role they do not have: policymaking. This, by the way, goes against any theory of Think Tanks role in society. They are invariably presented as a pawn in someone else’s game: corporate power, political parties, the state, philanthropy, the media, etc. These are all far more powerful and influential than Think Tanks.

We have argued that this claim and the strategies adopted to influence policy can undermine good policymaking. After all, we do not want policymakers who will be easily influenced. Just as they listened to us today, they could listen to someone else tomorrow; and change their minds. And, let’s not forget, we could be wrong; we do not want them to take our word for it. We want them to be capable of making up their own minds based on inputs such experience, values and a range of different sources of evidence and advice.

But, also, we want our policymakers to be accountable for their decisions. That is why we elect them or appoint them. When claiming influence, however, Think Tanks are happy to take the credit but never the responsibility. In the end, the policymaker will be accountable for whatever decision was made; while the think tank will be long gone to claim influence on another policy decision.

When thinking about influence, Think Tanks must recognise that there is a difference between their goals and what they should be measuring. It is possible to recognise a long-term goal as a direction of travel or as a rallying call for an organisation or a network, while being perfectly comfortable measuring changes closer to home.

Policy change, “success” cannot be interpreted as a sign that everything the think tank did was correct: the desired change may have occurred by chance. “Failure”, on the other hand, may have happened even though the think tank did everything right.

When it comes to policy influence, Think Tanks should worry more about the things they can control and for which they should be accountable: the quality of their research; the quality of their communications; their reputation in the media, the policy community, and the general public; the quality of their staff; and their organisational health.

None of these can guarantee policy impact but can increase the chances that, if there is, the outcomes will be positive.


Three Questions that Guide How to Assess Your Policy Impact
by Julia CoffmanCenter for Evaluation Innovation

The Southern Voice Meeting in Dar es Salaam and STIPRO Positioning in Policy Influence
by Constatine Deus - Researcher and Policy Advocacy Officer at STIPRO and 
Laurian Pima - Communications Officer at STIPRO

Post-Rana Plaza Monitoring: A Civil Society Initiative
 by Team CPD

Tackling Information Asymmetry in the Adoption of Energy Efficiency in the Indian Buildings Sector- The Case of NITI Aayog
by Astha Ummat, Young Professional, NITI Aayog 

Experience in Policy Impact
by Vanesa Weyrauch, Independent consultant and Associate Researcher at CIPPEC

An Introduction Note to Alex Gywther’s Article: Want an Impact? Tell a Good Story
by Alex Gywther, Communications Manager at UKCDS

Approaches and Challenges to Assess Policy Impact
by Andriy Andrusevych,  Senior Policy Expert at Resource & Analysis Center Society and Environment and
Zoryana KozakSenior Policy Expert at Resource & Analysis Center Society and Environment

Down with Tobacco: A West African Tale 

by Nafissatou Balde Sow, Coordinator/Regional Tobacco Taxation Project, CRES

Citizen Monitoring of Infrastructure – Experiences from a project on PMGSY Roads
by Sebin B Nidhiri, Programme Officer, Public Affairs Centre

Policy influence – Meaning and Measurement
by Stephen Yeo, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), London

Tool Review

Review of Monitoring and evaluation of policy influence and advocacy
Neeta Krishna - Associate Professor - HR  Father C Rodrigues Institute of Management Mumbai

Interesting Readings

1. Policy Impact, Evaluation and Change
Summary: Measuring the impact of public policies is a crucial part of any government’s work. It is important that policies formulated and implemented by various government levels ensure that they assess and evaluate the impact of policies implemented by them. Policy impact has two components – outputs and outcomes. This presentation provides methods of assessing policy impact.

2. 15 Ways Of Measuring Think Tank Policy Outcomes-Forbes
Summary: Think Tanks can face impact evaluation challenges that are similar to those faced by the bureaucracy. Often, the actual impact of a Think tanks’ research occurs far in the future. The author provides 15 ways of measuring more immediate impact including output and outcome assessments.

3. Communications and Impact Metrics for Think Tanks
Summary: A comprehensive article written by Fred Kuntz, former Vice President of Public Affairs at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) based on his experiences as a communicator in various industries. The author sets the context by explaining how communication is achieved in a Think Tank, and its importance. He then highlights the problems faced by a Think Tank in measuring policy impact, specifically referring to challenges pertaining to attribution. Finally, he provides a list of 15 metrics that a Think Tank can use to measure its performance and impact.

4. How do you measure a think tank’s impact?
Summary: This article presents the planning, methodology and results of an impact evaluation carried out by the Mowat Centre, Canada on their own activities. While planning this evaluation they realised the main challenges faced by most Think Tanks while trying to assess policy impact – the problem of direct attribution. The article then describes a three-pronged approach used by the organisation to gauge their policy impact and the lessons learned from this impact evaluation exercise.

5. What is the evidence on evidence-informed policy making?
Summary: In February 2012, at the International Conference on Evidence-Informed Policy Making in Nigeria, over 50 delegates from 18 countries discussed, at length, the challenges faced by research organisations in informing policy making. One of the key issues that emerged from the discussions was that ‘there is a shortage of evidence on policy makers’ actual capacity to use research evidence and there is even less evidence on effective strategies to build policy makers’ capacity.’

6. Demonstrating impact: planning, partners and telling stories
Summary: Research organisations and Think Tanks are ‘increasingly being asked to demonstrate the impact of research’ by their stakeholders, especially funders. In September 2015, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine organised a two-day discussion session on the importance of demonstrating impact and the tools the School could use to demonstrate impact. This article showcases the perspectives highlighted by the participants on how they understand ‘non-academic’ impact and a set of recommendations to demonstrate this kind of impact better.

7. Building impact over time: experiences from Zimbabwe
Summary: In this article, the Director of ESRC STEPS Centre, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex narrates his organisation’s experience in building long-term policy impact. He focuses on the importance of creating and measuring ‘sustained impact’, which cannot be achieved over 3-5 years. Using Zimbabwe’s Land Reform policy as case study, the author highlights that ‘[the] key to sustaining impact is engaging others in new research, and building the capacity to do this. Only when a wider body of research is developed that confirms, extends and sometimes challenges new findings will debate shift.’

Compiled by: Arushi Sen - Senior Communications Officer, CSTEP

Article - Julia Coffman

Three Questions that Guide How to Assess Your Policy Impact

Julia Coffman
Center for Evaluation Innovation

For Think Tanks and others acting to influence public policy, assessing one’s impact in a complex and crowded political environment can be challenging. When trying to understand if one’s policy work is making a difference, we recommend answering three key questions.

Question 1: Who are your audiences?

Influencing efforts ultimately is about communicating effectively to individuals or groups so that they learn, think about, or do something differently regarding a policy issue. While the research and content that Think Tanks deliver is a critical element of the influence process, “so is engaging with journalists, advocates, policymakers, and others who might interpret and use the findings”, according to Ruth Levine.

Audiences are the groups and individuals that Think Tanks or other influencers target and attempt to affect or persuade. They represent the main actors in the policy process and fall into three categories:
  1. The public (or specific segments of it) 
  2. Policy influencers (e.g., media, community leaders, the business community, thought leaders, political advisors, other advocacy organizations, etc.)
  3. Decision makers (e.g., elected officials, administrators, judges, etc.). 
Influence strategies may focus on just one audience or target more than one simultaneously.

Within these categories, it is important to identify specifically who is being targeted. “Those who aspire to inform decision making with research and evidence should avoid talking generically about ‘policy makers’”, for example. While there are three broad categories of audiences that might be engaged, who is being targeted within those categories?

Think Tanks with theories of change and related communication strategies will already have clear answers to the audience question.

Example Audiences

Question 2: How do you want audiences to change?

Changes are the outcomes in audiences that Think Tanks and other influencers aim for in order to progress toward a policy goal. There are three broad categories of changes, and they fall along a continuum based on how much an audience is expected to engage on a policy issue in order to achieve the influence that Think Tanks are after.

The continuum starts with basic awareness or knowledge. Here the goal is to make the audience aware that a problem or potential policy solution exists. The next point is will. The goal here is to raise an audience’s willingness to take action on an issue. It goes beyond awareness and tries to convince the audience that the issue is important enough to warrant action, and that any actions taken will in fact make a difference. The third point is action. Here, influence efforts actually support or facilitate audience action on an issue. Again, influence strategies may pursue one change with an audience or more than one simultaneously.

Example Audience Changes

Keep in mind that in order for policy change to occur, somebody ultimately needs to do something differently than they are doing right now. Influence efforts need to move somebody toward action. Decades of research have shown that just making people more aware of an issue or problem generally is not enough to mobilise them to act. Education by itself is not equivalent to motivation, and new knowledge does not automatically result in attitude or behaviour change.

Question 3: How will you capture audience changes?

Once the first two questions have been answered, assessments of policy impact can focus on measuring whether changes in the identified audience have occurred. Definitions of each outcome and the measures that might indicate whether those changes have occurred can help to operationalise audience change into measurable indicators.

Capturing audience changes can involve a familiar list of traditional data collection methods, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, or polling. But because the influence process in a political environment can be complex, and audience outcomes can be hard to measure (e.g., public will or political will), innovative methods have been developed specifically for assessing policy influence efforts. Think Tanks may find bellwether interviews, champion tracking, and policymaker ratings particularly useful.

Finally, isolating an organisation’s impact is difficult in a complex policy context that involves multiple actors. To increase the chance that any audience changes detected can be plausibly linked back to Think Tank efforts, it is critical to be as specific and precise as possible when answering the first two questions and to be sure that they link closely to the communications strategies that Think Tanks are using.

Article - Constantine Deus & Laurian Pima

The Southern Voice Meeting in Dar es Salaam and STIPRO Positioning in Policy Influence Discourse 

Costantine Deus
Researcher and Policy Advocacy Officer at STIPRO

Laurian Pima
Communications Officer at STIPRO

The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO) in collaboration with the Southern Voice Network Secretariat, Tanzania Think Tanks of Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA) and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) jointly organised a three days meeting for training on Triangular Research Methodology and Strategic Planning on the future of Southern Voice Network held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from October 12-14, 2015..

The meeting was organised following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals aiming at discussing the future of the Southern Voice in the context of making close follow-up towards the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda. The Southern Voice Network commonly abbreviated as SV Network is formed by a partnership of 49 Think Tanks from Africa, Asia and Latin America, serving as an open platform to make contributions to the international discourse on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The initiative was realised at a Think Tank Initiative (TTI) awardees meeting in Cape Town, South Africa (June 18-20, 2012) with a purpose of making contributions to the international discourse on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

With regard to the outcomes of the SV Dar es Salaam event, there were issues which could be worth noting for STIPRO’s positioning in policy influence context. They include strengthening of network between STIPRO and other Think Tanks locally and internationally, gaining recognition from policy makers specially on the role of STIPRO on issues related to SDG goal number nine (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). The event also received media attention which in return profiled STIPRO in policy debate of the country. Junior researchers at STIPRO gained more knowledge on research and its role in SDG policy debate.

STIPRO organised and had invited a guest of honor from the National Planning Commission (Tanzania) who issued a statement that “all efforts to implement the post 2015 development Agenda, Government depends on research institutions such as STIPRO for smooth monitoring and implementation of the SDGs”. This is a positive sign from the government to embrace researchers in SDGs policy discourse at a national level.

The Southern Voice Dar es Salaam event created a platform for interaction and links between STIPRO researchers and international researchers and development experts from Latin America, Asia and other African countries. This professional relationship contributed in strengthening STIPRO’s capacity in policy research and policy dialogue at the national, regional and global levels.

Opportunities to undertake joint projects to monitor SDGs implementation between STIPRO and other SV members have improved following this event.
Media coverage of the event made policy stakeholders aware of the SV network and its activities.

Article - Team CPD, Bangladesh

Post-Rana Plaza Monitoring: A Civil Society Initiative

Team CPD


The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) is a Think Tank based in Bangladesh. CPD undertook a programme titled ‘Post-Rana Plaza Monitoring: A Civil Society Initiative’ following the collapse of a building (Rana Plaza) on 24 April, 2013 that housed five garment factories. This tragedy claimed more than 1,130 lives of Ready Made Garment (RMG) workers and fatally injured thousands more. Immediately after the incident, promises of financial and other forms of support for the victims, and also for the RMG sector poured from the government, RMG manufacturers, international buyers and development partners. However, once the immediate concerns were addressed, the pace of delivery of commitments started to lose momentum.
CPD stepped in and decided to follow up on the actual delivery status of those commitments in partnership with 14 civil society organisations and a few eminent persons in Bangladesh.

Process of Monitoring Exercise

A monitoring  exercise was carried out rigorously for two consecutive years from May 2013 to April 2015. As a result several deliverables were planned keeping in mind the various audiences. Some of the key ones were:

  • Preparing 3 in-depth reports based on field-level investigations and interviews of all stakeholders including the victims, RMG workers, factory owners, policy makers and buyers of RMG
  • Organising 4 national-level dialogues
  • Conducting  special sessions with development partners to discuss their responsibilities on this
  • Organising  expert group meetings with relevant stakeholders
  • Launching a  dedicated page on its website
  • Publishing  articles at home and abroad
  • Producing a video.

External Support

Resources from Think Tanks played an important role in materialising the initiative. TTI support provided CPD the confidence to undertake this challenging task even though it was not designed in CPD’s annual work plan.


The response to CPD’s initiative was overwhelming. The reports were accessed online across the world. Dialogues were widely attended and covered by media. Several organisations and individuals were inspired to extend their assistance to the victims as they learned about the victims’ struggle through CPD’s dialogues. CPD has been included in the advisory boards of some of the key bodies engaged in the area of physical and social compliance of the industry.
The initiative was able to establish accountability on the part of key actors including the government and major buyers who were responsible for follow up actions. The initiative put forward concrete suggestions as to what should be done to address the gaps in the implementation of the planned actions. The initiative was also able to engage key stakeholders including major buyers of apparels from Bangladesh to discuss possible modalities concerning distribution of value along the value chain to incentivise investment by entrepreneurs towards better compliance in the apparels sector of the country.
Whilst there were a number of initiatives concerning various areas following the tragedy, a key distinctive feature of the CPD initiative was that it was driven by a dedicated group of partner organisations and over a sustained period of time.
For more details you can click here.

Article - Astha Ummat

Tackling Information Asymmetry in the Adoption of Energy Efficiency in the Indian Buildings Sector - The Case of NITI Aayog

Astha Ummat
Young Professional, NITI Aayog 

Residential and commercial sectors account for 29% of the total electricity consumption in India, and this share is rising at a rate of 8% annually. A significant part of this consumption share goes into meeting the energy demand from heating, cooling and lighting. The Indian commercial sector exhibits a massive savings potential on the demand side, through energy efficiency interventions. As per a recent estimate, there is going to be a rapid growth in buildings in India, and the present building space will comprise only 30% of the likely covered area in 2030. Hence, buildings will continue to be a major energy guzzler in the Indian context.

In order to leverage the opportunity of ‘locking in’ energy savings in India’s buildings, there is a need for tackling various gaps including the problem of information asymmetry, through the propagation of project experiences and best practices and the issue of transactional barriers. While new buildings are more amenable towards adopting efficient technologies, it is the existing stock of buildings, which offer a challenge to the economy. It is little appreciated that energy efficiency is also a money saver in a short period, and the Energy Services Company (ESCO) model even obviates the need for a building owner to spend money, which is sometimes a vital concern for a Government.

The Government at various levels from New Delhi to Panchyat levels, is also a major energy consumer in its offices, hospitals, railway stations, Public Sector Undertakings, and staff colonies. Energy efficiency measures in these existing facilities can save enormous quantities of energy and catalyse a new set of entrepreneurs. NITI Aayog (erstwhile Planning Commission of India) has recently set a national precedent by initiating two types of energy efficiency interventions. The aim of the exercise was to address the barrier of information asymmetry, by showcasing NITI Aayog as a demonstration project for energy efficiency interventions and map the way forward in terms of an easier and widespread adoption of energy efficiency measures in the buildings sector, with Government and Public sector buildings taking the lead.

The process of introducing energy efficiency in NITI Aayog started in June 2012. In close consultation with the Central Public Works Department and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), NITI Aayog facilitated the applicability of energy efficiency retrofits in order to move towards securing a BEE 5 star rating for its office and, assessed the feasibility and subsequently deployed Solar PV panels on the roof top at NITI Aayog.

NITI Aayog undertook this exercise as a proof-of-concept for adopting energy efficiency measures in buildings, particularly those of the Government. Undertaking this exercise helped scale the wall of the barriers for easy adoption of energy efficiency interventions in government buildings.
The exercise was carried out in two phases. Following the completion of Phase I of the retrofits which targeted 60% of the building load, and the deployment of a 78.24 KWp Solar Photovoltaic System on the roof top of the office building, NITI Aayog was awarded the 5 star energy efficiency rating by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in February 2015. It has also, with the help of the rooftop solar PV panels, started generating its own electricity, which contributes to the use of electricity in the building.

Energy efficiency retrofits were carried out for air conditioners, ceiling fans, lights and pump sets, wherein the relatively inefficient appliances were completely replaced by their energy efficient counterparts. Energy savers for air conditioners were also deployed, and the existing capacitor system was augmented to improve the power factor of the building. In terms of quantitative gains, NITI Aayog, in the first year of adoption of these interventions was successful in saving 19% of the previous year’s energy consumption, and 20 lakh INR in its electricity bill (a 13% reduction from the previous year). Taking into account, the capital investments and the projected savings, NITI Aayog is expected to recover its investment in the next 3 years, after which all savings in the electricity bill would be savings accrued in the institution. A cloud-based Energy Management and Information System (EMIS) is being used to monitor the buildings energy consumption in a transparent manner.  This provides a strong case for adoption of energy efficiency interventions in other Government buildings.

To promote and ease the replicability of this exercise in other Government buildings, NITI Aayog has relentlessly pursued the acting agencies (Central Public Works Department, Ministry of Urban Development etc.) for facilitating policy interventions in light of the challenges that it faced in terms of transactional barriers to adapt the ESCO model. NITI Aayog was successful in getting directives for taking up the ESCO model in its own building for the next phase of energy interventions. This opens up the path for conversion of a large stock of Government buildings to energy efficient star rated consumers, resulting in large electricity and money savings.

This pilot serves as a classic example for policy influence from one government department to another. It also highlights the role that Governments can play in building an ecosystem for advancing energy efficiency, and tackling the barriers associated with it.

Article - Vanesa Weyrauch

Experience in Policy Impact

Vanesa Weyrauch
Independent consultant and Associate Researcher at CIPPEC

Within current debates on what is policy influence and how to assess whether a policy research organisation has been successful in its efforts or not, there has been recently an increasing acknowledgment of the complexity of this task, and questions about how much can be really measured or is worth measuring abound.

Indeed, one of the main discoveries among those who take our online course focused in MEL of policy influence is the need to redefine policy influence itself: should only affecting a specific program or policy be considered policy influence? How about achieving changes in attitudes, beliefs, frameworks, ideas, resources, capacities and relationships among stakeholders who influence or can be influenced by policy? Is really contributing to a new policy, or helping modify an existing one, the Holy Grail?

Through rich and continuous exchange with colleagues in developing countries, we have found significant agreement and awareness on the need to expand what is enclosed under the concept of policy influence, to include, for example, short term outcomes at the level of actors (changes in attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, discourses, etc.). Often these changes are needed to then be able to affect their decisions and consequently modify or create new policies informed by the produced research. Therefore, recognition of the long way and diverse nature of influence is crucial in terms of assessing what has worked or has not, including who needs to be touched by our work. In fact, what might seem a win situation: a policymaker adopting a direct recommendation that emerged from our research might turn to be a failure when she decides to provide a new service without carefully managing its implied costs. In this post at P&I,  Ulviyya Mikayilova, Policy Unit manager at the Center for Innovations in Education (CIE), from Azerbaijan, describes this paradoxical situation and argues about the need to re-consider what policy influence really is.

Moreover, having contributed to a very specific policy change (i.e. having developed a formula to calculate a more equitable distribution of new funds targeted at expanding school hours for poorest students) is just a new chapter of complex and non-linear story. It is not enough to acknowledge the level of efforts, activities, strategies and relationships that a group of researchers or a research institution has deployed to inform, convince, help others develop such a change. Once the new content is there – or new procedures take place – there is again a long path to walk to contribute to turn that change into a real impact on beneficiaries of that policy. The bottom-line question for many donors and grantees is: did research finally help to improve people´s lives? Is it worth investing in this?

Responding to this question in an intelligent and useful way implies new discussions and reflections from us. For example, are think tanks/policy research institutions accountable for final impact? Should/can they be? Is it enough to claim contribution to a policy change based on high quality and relevant research and not produce later on evidence on how that policy worked or not?

Not a minor dilemma at all. What are the boundaries for our work? Where should the policy influence efforts stop? Is it at the design stage, i.e. having been successful bringing into the table good ideas emerging from research that lead to w new policy or the modification of an existing one? What happens, then, with implementation?

Some organisations may immediately shy away from what happens after. It is the role of the State and it is within the government capacity to strive to ensure that policies are deployed in a way that they reach the intended results as much as possible. External stakeholders can never be accountable for that and should not try to influence or control that process. Furthermore, doing so would diminish the State´s capacity and accountability.

Others, on the contrary, decide to get further involved: some by monitoring and evaluating results of the policy so as to inform future efforts and become social watchdogs in the name of the intended beneficiaries. Some others become engaged in policy implementation: they get their feet in the mud, and work providing technical assistance or developing capacity of public servants so that the policy is well implemented or at least stays in the right direction. This also provides learning for future efforts and recommendations. However, what happens if they can only do this in the first pilots, or only for some level of policymakers? Do these organisations have enough resources (human and financial) to really play a role in policies of mid or large scale? Would they lose independence, autonomy and capacity to continue innovating?

Of course, an approach that acknowledges complexity reveals there is no unique or right answer to these challenges. Quite the other way: it demands those playing this game to further reflect and more wisely determine what their best role would be. Answers may vary according to diverse political contexts, organizational priorities and values, existing capacity of other external stakeholders to play similar roles, etc.

Policy influence is a changing kaleidoscope and one cannot ignore the need to remain flexible and dynamic. However, one should also avoid the risk of just following the flow, responding to where demand and opportunities from others arise without re-visiting at some critical points in development its main goals, mission and vision. Some structure makes a policy research organization healthy, by conserving its identity. Some flexibility allows it to stay relevant and be valued and needed. To strike the balance is not easy at all but probably will help the institution thrive in an ever changing and increasingly complex policy world.

Article - Alex Gywther

An Introduction Note to Alex Gywther’s Article: Want an Impact? Tell a Good Story

Alex Gywther
Communications Manager at UKCDS

Much of the daily discourse and litany about the impact of research is about how can research increase its impact. And many hours are spent on developing the best strategy to improve the impact of research on multiple audiences.

But what if we shifted our attention to a different question? What about the research that has made a difference in the lives of people? What are the stories of impact and success from development research? What insights do stories reveal about the impact of research and value of good research in driving change? While a lot of research activity has significant impact, often they don’t tell a good story that attracts people.

In an article titled “Want an impact? Tell a good story”, Alex Gwyther tells the story of a project undertaken by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), to write 20 stories of development research impact.  Alex Gwyther’s article demonstrates the power of using stories to engage an audience. The impact stories developed by UKCDS takes the reader into the world of the research and the researcher, enabling the reader to “sense the process of change” and develop their own narrative and meaning.

Alex Gwyther is Communications Manager at UKCDS, the group of 14 UK government departments and major funders with interests in research for international development.

Reviewed by Susan Koshy
Designer of Learning Experiences, Knowledge Translator and Curator
Innohealth Systems/Blank Canvas

Article - Andriy & Zoryana

Approaches and Challenges to Assess Policy Impact

Andriy Andrusevych 
Senior Policy Expert
Resource & Analysis Center Society and Environment


Our experience in using various methods for assessing policy impact is limited to environmental policy, our Center’s major operating field.All methods used in our Center were applied within the so called M&E&L or MEL (monitoring, evaluation and learning) framework.

One of the key issues to think about when starting a policy impact assessment scheme is to set a threshold between assessing policy impact, on the one hand, and effectiveness of the organisation activities (or its projects), on the other hand.

MEL as a Pilot

We took MEL as a comprehensive system for monitoring and evaluating the impact of a specific project (related to monitoring green growth in Ukraine). This significantly simplified the application of this instrument in the organisation. The key elements of MEL included: development of indicators for expected outcomes, sources and data gathering, periodic analysis and discussion (learning). You can read more about challenges we met here.

Yet, there are some specific experiences we see worth describing in more details here.
Mechanical (or statistical) indicators are quite popular these days among analysts (e.g. Facebook likes, or web-page statistics). Yet, they have limited capacity for assessing Think Tank impact. Our target audience often is narrow (sometimes – ultra-narrow). For this reason, the fact that our policy paper was downloaded by 10,000 users may not indicate that our target persons are familiar with it. In this context, we see the need to substitute mechanical indicators, no matter how attractive diagrams and other visualisations may seem to your planning/supervisory team. For instance, we consider brief interviews with representatives of the target groups to be an effective alternative to statistical indicators for measuring specific outcomes (impact). Passive involvement of the target group may also be useful.

We found it difficult, if possible at all, to “lay” MEL like an X-ray scanner on the existing organisation planning system, especially strategic planning. MEL requires full integration into planning on the level which you aim to assess. If you wish to assess policy impact of your work – MEL needs to be integrated into strategic planning of an organisation.

We also learnt that choice of indicators to measure impact requires in-depth analysis of the context of policy.. This also applies to an initial snap-assessment of the relevant policy area using specific indicators, and to the peculiarities of a policy process. In particular, your partners, competitors or target groups may deliberately hide your impact on the policy sector (for example, by using your ideas or following specific recommendations without referring to you as a source). There could also be  reasons where you may not be willing to visualise your impact; this would inevitably lead to choosing special assessment methods, in particular to avoid subjective factor when using insider information (data).

Another example from our experience: resources and pragmatism. Policy impact assessment process will require involvement of the majority of staff (involved in relevant policy work). In turn, this will require significant resources. The conclusion is clear: when designing MEL - a system for assessing your impact or effectiveness of your activities – you may want to be extremely pragmatic, if not conservative by selecting only key objects and methods for assessment. Too much of a good thing can devastate your efforts.


Based on our experience we are now designing MEL system for the whole organisation. Form the start, assessment of policy impact of the organisation (even in specific policy area) poses some challenges. In particular, how to separate your impact from the impact of other players? How to separate assessment of policy impact from activities assessment? Regarding the latter, it is much easier to design indicators for a project or a programme, and select relevant assessment methods.

Key Considerations to Design Policy Impact Assessment System

Selection of indicators is a key element when designing MEL. We believe an effective policy impact assessment system should involve a small number of indicators, which are rooted in specific initiatives (projects). The indicators should be “tangible” and avoid generalisation, in this way they will serve as an important motivating factor for the personnel, in addition to serving policy impact assessment purpose. Lastly, while indicators should be stable, they need to be able to reflect changes in the policy environment.

We anticipate a subjective element in the assessment system, and that’s good. Subjective element is a consequence of choosing indicators, which are not mechanical (statistical).
Assessing an organisation’s policy impact requires establishing methods for measuring your own input. Without framing your own contribution it would be hard to measure a policy impact. Framing your contribution may be done through assessing separate segments: initiatives and projects implemented by the organisation. For this reason, all indicators for policy impact system should be rooted in specific project and initiatives. This would also make data gathering easier and effective.

We believe that it is necessary to clearly define the objectives for an assessment in the context of strategic planning of an organisation. It could be one of those “either-or” decisions at the very beginning. Traditionally, you may start from setting clear expected outcomes of your work in a specific policy area. Yet, the policy impact assessment process may be tuned to one or more policy process elements: key player, policy process and policy substance (subject). This could enable designing a MEL system which is not organization-centric (i.e. based on its vision, structure, priorities and tasks), but also fully reflects the structure of the relevant policy area (process). For example, at some point we might be more interested what impact we make on specific policy-makers group framing birds protection policy in Ukraine (it could be a parliamentary committee), rather than the policy substance itself or policy-making process. In contrast, tor some think-tanks, transparency of the policy-making process could be a priority.

Article - Prof. Diagne

Down with Tobacco: A West African Tale 

Prof. Diagne Abdoulaye
Director CRES

Six million people are dying due to tobacco consumption, while 5 million persons are affected by tobacco related diseases (cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc). 80% of smokers living in poor and middle class countries spend their financial resources on tobacco instead of addressing basic needs such as food,education, healthcare. These reasons, among others explain why the Consortium pour la Recherche Economique et Sociale (CRES) decided to join the Tobacco Control effort worldwide and especially in Africa.

Until 2013, Senegal did not have a law on smoking despite the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was ratified in 2005. In order to address this lack of legal framework regarding tobacco, CRES decided in 2010 to help the Ministry of Health by setting up a multi-disciplinary team composed of lawyers and activists who developed a draft bill to regulate the production, consumption and distribution of tobacco. To achieve this, CRES collaborated with legal counsellors and the Minister of Health during the whole writing process, and also included some members from the government and some religious leaders who are very influential in Senegal. This initiative strengthened the relationship among the Senegalese Civil Society associations, which created the Senegalese League Against Tobacco (LISTAB). This federation of association conducted large advocacy and lobbying campaigns for the adoption of a law on tobacco use and production. This strategy paid off and resulted in the adoption of a bill by the government in July 2013, and by the Members of Parliament in March 2014.

While working at the national level, and being aware that tobacco taxation was the most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption, CRES was also eager to contribute to the protection of millions of people by changing the regional directives on tobacco taxation. In this regard, CRES first involved researchers, statisticians, tax and custom personnel to form 15 national teams and write 15 national country profiles on tobacco economics and national taxation policies, including recommendations for strengthening the tax systems. The next step involved the writing of an advocacy document that gathered all international evidence that could justify this reform, and submitted it to national and regional decision makers.

Another aspect of CRES policy influence strategy was to support the communication between researchers, tobacco control advocates and policy makers, by organising three regional conferences where they shared the research results and points of view, and together arrived at a solution for a fiscal policy to serve health purposes. In the last Regional Conference, the Regional Parliament representative signed an official statement, 'Declaration of Abdijan' which emphasised the need to adopt new ways to curb the growth of pandemy. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ministries of Finance and of Health together with civil society associations and international organisations wrote the draft regional directives that have been officially submitted to the two regional West African Unions (ECOWAS and West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)). Both regional organisations used this document to convene a technical meeting on this subject and are currently in the process of initiating a reform on tobacco taxation related to regional policies. Simultaneously, West African countries have changed their tobacco taxation policies.

Such a decision will have a major impact on the reduction of the prevalence of morbidity, mortality and public health expenditures due to smoking related diseases in the West African countries. As a result of this project, CRES was awarded a prize by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Article - Sebin B. Nidhiri

Citizen Monitoring of Infrastructure – Experiences from a project on PMGSY Roads

Sebin B. Nidhiri
Programme Officer, Public Affairs Centre


Sound infrastructure is a necessity as it impacts many other sectors in making it crucial for national development. The nature of infrastructure is such that all development projects involve huge amount of money.  An engineer once joked that the hardest part of his job was to count the zeros in such project budgets.

India’s villages, home to two-third of the country’s population, remain largely disconnected without all-weather roads even as late as 2000. The Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) was launched to redress this with an object to provide an all-weather access to around 1.7 lakh hitherto disconnected habitations. The National Rural Road Development Agency (NRRDA) was created to oversee the implementation of the scheme under which 4,27,399 km of roads have been constructed till date (Source: Official PMGSY information portal) with a spending of Rs. 11,74,86,05,25,000. In rural areas, a road is much more than a tool for transportation; it is a lifeline that spells the difference between life and death. A road decides whether crops reach market on time or whether a woman in labour reaches the hospital on time.


To bring in citizen monitoring into a complex sector such as infrastructure, Public Affairs Centre initiated a project on infrastructure monitoring of PMGSY roads in partnership with the World Bank and NRRDA in 2005. PMGSY roads were an ideal place to start, considering the dispersed nature of the project (making monitoring harder) and criticality of a rural road. A citizen friendly toolkit was developed that could be used by anyone with minimal training to test the parameters of a road. PAC initiated the process in Tamil Nadu and later in Karnataka and Orissa. The tools were tested on the field and the process was modified accordingly. The process was then implemented on select roads in Rajasthan, Meghalaya and Jharkhand. With further improvements to the process, citizen monitoring is currently used in seven states. The process has evolved over the years and currently involves identifying volunteers through organisations with a presence at grass root level in states, training them, collecting the report on roads through them and presenting the findings to NRRDA and the various State Rural Road Development Agencies (SRRDAs) who thereafter act on the findings. A second round of monitoring is also undertaken to study the changes or improvements that have been made on these roads. At the end of the process meetings are held in each state bringing together the government, contractors, civil society and citizens to share the findings of two rounds of citizen monitoring.

Throughout the process, a sense of ownership is instilled among villagers towards their village roads and a ‘buy-in’ is created among the villagers regarding their role in monitoring the construction and maintenance of ‘their’ roads. Awareness is also created regarding avenues for grievance redressal, putting up posters, screening of documentary films and Gram Sabhas. The larger objective is to fine tune and put in place a robust and sustainable process that could be implemented across the nation using the residents of a village to continuously monitor their own roads.

Policy Impact

A success of the programme has been that the implementing government agency has been in partnership with PAC in the pilot stage and owing to the success of the pilot projects, the government is considering a policy shift to include the citizen monitoring component within the PMGSY guidelines. PAC firmly believes that the right knowledge in the right places can do wonders. A policy change should not limit itself to inputs from intellectuals but should also be based on evidence from the grass root level.

The pilot study has identified  instances where contractors have taken up and completed roadworks that were idle for months, trained volunteers were contacted by villagers from the neighbouring villages to monitor the roads , engineers from implementing agencies came with project proposals and provided reasons as to why some work was inappropriate and what action had been initiated and the volunteers have been instilled with a confidence that their voice matters and that they can create change. Citizen monitoring is an idea whose time has come.

(The author is a Program Officer with the Citizen Action Support Group in PAC that is working on Citizen Monitoring of PMGSY roads. He tweets at @sebinbn)

Article - Stephen Yeo

Policy influence – Meaning and Measurement

Stephen Yeo
Board of  Directors
African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET)

“Policy impact” and “policy influence” are terms that are used often, but seldom clearly defined. This is not because their meaning is not clear to all concerned: on the contrary, the meaning is either very simplistic or entirely unclear.

First, the simplistic view: “I wrote a research paper that was published in a top journal. The Minister read the paper and immediately implemented the policy I advocated in the paper.” You don’t have to know much about how politics and governments work to know that this is pretty silly. Ministers don't read research papers in scientific journals. And even if they did, they wouldn't base their policies on the latest journal article they have read. The simplistic view is attractive though, and not only because it is simple to understand. If policy worked in this way it would be easy to measure the policy influence of research: we just have to look at journal articles and link them to a policy change, or look at a change in policy and try to figure out what journal articles the Minister was reading at the time.

Fortunately (or unfortunately from the measurement perspective) the simplistic view went out of fashion quite a while ago – back in the 1960s, in fact. Since then it has been replaced by something more realistic and more nuanced, but more difficult to measure.

Where did this more nuanced view come from and what does it consist of? Its origins owe much to Harvard Professor Carol Weiss, who studied US education policy in the 1970s.She emphasised the “enlightenment” role of research, by which she meant the ability of research to create the framework within which policy-makers analysed and discussed policy choices. Researchers might have an indirect but enormous policy influence merely by shaping the terms on which the public debates about a policy were conducted and how policy-makers thought about the issue.

There's a lot to this idea – one has only to think of how development debates have shifted between the 1950s and the 1990s, from the discussions of national plans and central planning that were in fashion during the 1950s to the market oriented thinking of the 1990s, when every problem and policy issue was framed in economic terms and all the answers seemed to come from economists. The power to frame an issue can be very powerful indeed.

Fred Carden took this a bit further in his landmark study of policy influence in 2009. He identifiedthree different channels through which research can affect policy-expand policy capacities, broaden policy horizonsand affect decision regimes. Expanding policy capacity involves strengthening policy-makers’ ability to analyse policy-relevant research and assimilate the ideas it contains. Broadening policy horizons involves introducingnew ideas and options into policy debates, a notion that is similar to, but not quite the same as Weiss’s idea of research providing enlightenment or frameworks for discussion. Affecting decision regimes is also about capacity, like the first channel, but is more about the processes by which policies are debated and chosen and less about the people involved.

This is a very different way of thinking about policy influence. It goes “well beyond changing particular policies”, Carden argues that, “The most meaningful and lasting influence is less about specific policy change than about building capacity – among researchers and policy people – to produce and apply knowledge”. But in this more nuanced version, influence and impact emerge only in the long run. As Carden notes “This kind of influence can take years, or even decades, to take effect or become apparent. But it is no less important for that.”

So this leaves us with a much more complicated notion of policy influence. But the complications don’t end there. A more recent development is the emergence of more systematic and rigorous methods for evaluating the impact of policies. The best known of these methods involves Randomised Control Trials (RCTs), which have become much more common and influential over the past fifteen or twenty years. Impact evaluation – whether via RCTs or other methods – typically involves looking at existing policies rather than proposing new policies. So research can have a significant influence on the thinking of policymakers by providing evidence that an existing policy doesn’t work, rather than coming up with an idea for a brand new policy. In some ways this makes measuring research to policy linkages a little simpler, because impact evaluations are usually highly visible and often can be clearly linked to policy discourse.

All this gives us a more sensible framework for thinking how research may influence policy that goes well beyond whether a particular piece of research was responsible for a specific change in policy (be that a new law, a change in regulatory practice, or a decision to change a variable that is under the control of a policy maker).But at the same time these notions create a serious challenge for researchers and Think Tanks who need to demonstrate that their research has had an impact, or evaluators who have to assess a research programme or project.

Even in the apparently simple case of a policy change that involves a new law, it is almost never possible to “prove” that a particular piece of research brought about a change in policy. There are many factors that influence a policy decision, and research is only one factor - and in many cases research may be less important than other factors, such as the political environment. Why not just ask the politician or civil servant (who made the decision to change the policy)as to why they took the decision they did? But even this is far from straightforward - it may be far from obvious that an individual actually made the decision or indeed whether any single individual was responsible at all. So you may not know who to ask.

This means that you will be forced to rely on other sorts of evidence to measure impact. An analysis of the content of documents (white papers, green papers, speeches by politicians and civil servants) to detect the influence of a piece of research; or interviewing a broader range of people who were close to the decision making process, and trying to “triangulate” their answers. This begins to look more like the work of a good journalist or a detective. So even in the “simple” case of a discrete policy change, tracing this back to a research paper or project is a demanding task.

The challenge is even greater for the more complex forms of policy influence - for example the role of research in creating the framework for policy analysis and debate. How would you measure a change in a framework? That would require an even more elaborate document analysis and interviews with a much wider range of stakeholders.

The difficulties involved in measuring policy influence of research have been known and acknowledged for some time, but there have been relatively few systematic attempts to tackle the issue. The most ambitious example is probably the work by Carden, which examines the policy influence of 23 research projects funded by IDRC, using a common framework. But this has only scratched the surface of the problem, which is one of the most challenging and fascinating puzzles currently facing researchers – and those who evaluate them.

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 .

Interview - Anil Jain

Anil Kumar Jain
Adviser (Energy, Climate Change, and Overseas Engagements), NITI Aayog 

What is your understanding of policy impact?

Policy impact, in my view, is an observable change in certain pre-identified parameters in a particular sector of a country. Whether or not this change is observable depends on a variety of metrics: the nature of parameters, their definitions, the sample space, and the time-frame of a particular intervention.

Gauging the impact of a policy/intervention is an important step in the cycle that starts from policy formulation, goes on to policy appraisal, and finally culminates in the implementation of the same. Measuring the impact that an intervention is making is particularly useful in mid-course correction of any intervention, for which a large amount of public expenditure is mobilised. It is also important for formulating follow up strategies for tracking specific components of a problem that are found to not respond fully to the interventions being carried out.

 According to you what do you think could be the parameters?

The first and foremost metric to gauge policy impact is the construction of a baseline to monitor against progress.. The next is to define objectives in terms of set deliverables, to facilitate ease in monitoring. Focusing on an apt evaluation by constructing a sample size correctly, including techniques that take into account the multitude of factors - geographic, socio-economic, political, that influence the implementation and adopting interventions, are also factors that help understand the impact that a particular policy is making.

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

I would like to cite an example from the energy efficiency space in India. Energy efficiency in India is a concept that is restricted by a lot of market barriers, the major one being information asymmetry.

An innovative example in the space of energy efficiency is a public, real time, national dashboard for monitoring the adoption and impact of the ‘Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme’ of the Government of India ( This new dashboard, accessible to anyone with an internet connection, aims to tackle the barrier of information asymmetry by making users aware of the impact that the adoption of efficient lighting systems are having on parameters like the energy saved per day, the cost saved per day, the peak demand that was avoided and the carbon dioxide reduction per day. Such an application, which measures policy impact in a transparent fashion, helps make the users aware of the benefits of the intervention, which increases adoption, and in turn maximises the impact of the intervention.

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

In my opinion, institutions could contribute towards making policy impact by utilising their strengths of being repositories of evidence based sector expertise.

I would like to illustrate this with an example of a project that we are carrying out at NITI Aayog. With the new developmental goals of the Government in the space of renewable energy, NITI Aayog, in collaboration with a leading Think Tank in India and an international research agency, is facilitating the development of a tool for geospatial analysis for Wind and Solar Energy. This analysis, which includes data across states, upto taluka levels, would help investors identify the different areas in India available for installation, and their inherent potential for generation.

This is an excellent example of an institution utilising its sector specific expertise to aid the Government by providing a tool that would help in the achievement of a country’s developmental goals and also maximising policy impact.

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

A strong environment of collaboration between the policy makers, and the institutions/organisations is important for positively affecting policy impact. Different institutions have expertise in different dimensions like sector specific research, advisory, and advocacy. Bringing in these institutions and their expertise into the policy formulation process, inculcates a strong evidence based backing to any new policy/ intervention.

For instance, we at NITI Aayog, developed one of the Government of India’s first, open source, interactive, dynamic, scenario building tools to encourage dialogue, and consensus building on energy policy. In this exercise, we roped in a multitude of Think Tanks, non-governmental organisations, international research organisations, industry bodies, and the academia. Each institution brought in its own expertise to the table, which enabled us to develop a comprehensive product for the nation. With an environment of collaboration and intellectual exchange, different institutions were able to contribute to the energy story of India and in turn play a part in the formulation and strengthen the energy policy in India.

Interview - Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst
Program Leader, TTI, IDRC Canada

Q: What is your understanding of policy impact?

I understand policy impact quite broadly. In our work, we tend to assume policy means public policy, which delimits a certain domain of responsibility belonging to governments on behalf of their citizens. In this sense, impact could run the gamut from influencing how a policy issue is framed, to outlining policy choices open to government, to implementing a policy or set of policies, to helping assess the effectiveness of that policy in achieving its intended outcomes. However, I also think of impact on other social actors whose decisions and behaviours have bearing - deliberately or not - on social, political, economic and environmental issues. Here I am thinking of private firms, civil society organisations or even individuals. While there may be no recognisable “private policy”, a researcher could nevertheless consider whether their research has had any impact on the ends that a public policy would have. So for instance, working to change how companies accommodate workers’ rights in global value chains, or seeking to influence the attitudes and behaviours of men in relation to violence against women. This last example may not at first seem like “policy impact”. But I would argue that it should, because even in private spheres (like households), there are issues of public concern (like women’s rights). In the end, I try to think about how research can help constructively address socio-economic, political or environmental issues.

Q: According to the donor’s perspective what do you think could be the parameters?

It very much depends on the donor. Some donors, particularly the bilateral donors, are more concerned with downstream impacts. This is both because they are interested in change and how to bring it about (although aren’t we all?) but also because there is immense pressure on them to demonstrate value for the taxpayers monies they are spending. This has led, in my opinion, to both a narrowing of what is considered impact, while at the same time increasing expectations of research and its ability to contribute to that impact. Other donors whose accountabilities are different (such as large private foundations) can afford to take a broader view of impact. But again, this varies between them.

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

There are so many I am always reluctant to highlight one or two. Our website is filled with Stories of Influence that show how the organisations TTI supports – including CSTEP -  are making a difference and contributing to positive social change. Instead of particular examples, I will mention one innovative approach, and that is research which takes into account questions of research integrity and legitimacy. This normally means seeking the active involvement of people with a stake in the research process. IDRC considers approaches that incorporate these considerations as essential to the production of quality research. And while these approaches to research may not be innovative in the sense of being new approaches conceptually, they are too often not undertaken, and yet they can have significant bearing on the likelihood that the research findings will have impact.

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

New digital technologies have really blown open the traditional, formal policy making process. They facilitate access to ideas, accelerate expectations of citizens and consumers and facilitate responsiveness to those expectations, change the nature of production and consumption, and change social relations in many ways. I think within these changing circumstances there are interesting opportunities for influence to be explored. For instance, using these technologies for communications and outreach (this is already happening but way more could be done) using them in the research process (e.g. crowdsourcing data collection), or even taking some of these changes up as policy-relevant research topics (e.g. how to bring internet access to the more than 60% of households that, according to the International Telecommunications Union, do not currently have access, and more importantly, what could such access facilitate?).

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

Clearly, context matters  (:  but as has been noted elsewhere, this is a rather uncontroversial and unhelpful statement (  And how you answer this question depends very much on your organisation, where you sit within it, and what you as an individual understand context to mean. But let me offer two thoughts on your question from my previous experience as a policymaker.

The first thought is how crucial it is to acknowledge the social nature of context and the importance of personal relationships within this. Organisations operate in a social environment, by which I mean ones that are constituted by social relations of all kinds that are governed by a whole range of overlapping social norms and values. Developing cordial and professional relationships on a personal level with those individuals that organisations seek to influence is an essential element in building trust, which plays a central role in the effectiveness of communication. Quality and timely research is important, but I believe having a foundation of trust with the intended audience helps accelerate the process of influence. There are risks obviously – cooptation being the most dangerous – but are manageable. Moreover, because the social environments organisations operate within are not fixed, what organisations do, and how they do what they do, can actually help change existing social relations for the better – or even help constitute new ones. These outcomes will be complementary to whatever impact they seek through their research outputs but I would argue the power that comes from the way an organisation is socially embedded should very much be borne in mind when conceiving organisational purpose and approach. Establishing and nurturing diverse, meaningful personal networks is part and parcel of this process.

My second thought on context is the opportunity that arises from “disruptive moments.” More often than not, this would be an unanticipated event that creates an opening for good, evidence-based ideas to gain traction. The collapse of the Rana Plaza Complex in Dhaka in 2013 and the aftermath is one example. The Centre for Policy Dialogue, through its “Post-Rana Plaza Collapse Civil Society Initiative”, not only galvanized action to sustain civil society monitoring of the promises for support for the victims, it was also able to use the moment to have a broader conversation with government and private sector actors on finding better ways of ensuring workplace safety and compliance with workers’ rights in the apparels sector of Bangladesh.

These thoughts are likely very familiar to those who manage Think Tanks, so I don’t feel like this is anything new but to the extent that they could be generalised, it might be as follows: be proactive in shaping the elements of your environment that you can control, and be ready to take advantage when the influences you cannot control create openings for you.