A group of 16 technocrats recently participated in a policy communications training in Mangochi, Malawi. Facilitated by Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health (PACE) project staff, the training aimed to enhance participants’ skills on communicating Population, Health, and Environment research and programs to policymakers. We participants were mainly drawn from sectors such as agriculture, health, economic planning, gender, youth development, and the nongovernmental organizations that are key for implementing the PaMawa Project.

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Participants—program officers, deputy directors, directors, and the PaMawa chief of party—learned first-hand from the second deputy speaker of the Malawi Parliament, Honourable Clement Chiwaya, MP (front row, center) about how to best reach policymakers.
Photo credit: Kristen P. Patterson

PaMawa ndi a Chinyamata (PaMawa), or “Youth as Agents
of Change,” is funded by the United States Agency for International Development/Malawi and aims to increase the adoption of positive behaviors related to climate change adaptation and family planning/reproductive health among youth ages 10 to 35. The program runs from 2016 to 2020 and is being implemented in Balaka, Mangochi, and Machinga districts. The PaMawa implementing team includes GOAL, Population Services International, and Malawi’s Centre for Social Research

Why Hold a Training on Communicating to Policymakers?

Most of us attending the communication training engage in research and carry out projects to make a positive difference among the populations with whom we interact. Over the years, however, the benefits we hoped to see come from our work—and to those populations—have not been achieved because the evidence resulting from our research and project results are not easily accessible for use by decisionmakers. It is against this background that Population Reference Bureau (PRB)’s PACE project, in collaboration with the PaMawa project, recently brought together individuals from a range of different organizations and institutions for a policy communication training with a focus on young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and their participation in environmental and climate change adaptation interventions.

The training’s main purpose was to equip participants with knowledge and skills on how they can communicate their research findings, routine data, and program lessons to those who are entrusted with making decisions in their respective organizations, as well as with local, regional, and national policymakers and influencers. This ability to communicate will ensure that lessons from PaMawa’s work contribute to shaping decisions and policies related to youth, SRH, and climate change to have a greater impact.

How Can We Bridge the Gap Between Project Results and Policy?

We learned of the gap between research and policy globally, regionally, and in Malawi. The good news is that, as key stakeholders, we can bridge this gap by taking the following steps.

  • Plan for Research Uptake: Plan in advance to conduct research that is relevant for policymakers; design studies that answer policymakers’ questions; understand what policymakers want and need to know; budget for key engagement sessions; and know how things work in your setting.
  • Engage Policymakers: Engage with policymakers early in the process as partners toward common goals; help policymakers understand research data and results better; and set up mechanisms to give policymakers regular updates on study progress that allows for feedback and input.
  • Communicate Strategically: Convey a clear and concise message; provide results that can ensure that policymakers feel confident taking necessary actions; speak directly to issues that policymakers care about; propose feasible solutions; and suggest concrete action steps.
  • Meaningful Partnerships: Create meaningful partnerships between policymakers and researchers, which could include convening partners to meet regularly, co-generating questions and ideas, supporting each other beyond their realms of influence, and coordinating project and program management.

How Important Is Engagement in Influencing Evidence-Based Policy?

What really excited us were the interactions we had with the second deputy speaker of the Malawi Parliament, Honourable Clement Chiwaya, MP. The second deputy speaker emphasized that stakeholders and researchers need to engage parliamentarians to influence policy processes. This engagement can be done by holding targeted meetings with relevant committees and groups within parliament, with the aim of providing them with the evidence they need to form the base of their debates and decisions.

We also interacted with four media personnel from the major media houses in Malawi about how researchers can strategically communicate not only to policymakers but to the wider population, and how we can work with the media to reach as many people as possible.

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We are ready to apply our new knowledge and skills! 
Photo credit: Abiba Longwe-Ngwira

What’s Next?

We are eager to apply what we have learned through this PRB and PACE training session! Many participants plan to take the policy presentations they developed on a specific topic during the workshop to policymakers and key stakeholders, with the aim of influencing positive change for youth in Malawi.