Make It Relevant, Make It Simple, Tell a Story, and Collaborate

For the past 30 years, PRB has held the annual Policy Communication Fellows Program for doctoral students from developing countries to learn concrete skills to communicate their research for policy audiences. This year, the program was jointly hosted in Lilongwe, Malawi, by PRB and the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), whose staff include program alumni in key leadership roles.

Hosting the program in Malawi allowed participants to learn from AFIDEP’s efforts to strengthen evidence-based decisionmaking in Africa. In Malawi, AFIDEP has been fostering partnerships to turn policymakers into champions for evidence.

Two of those champions visited the program to offer their insights into how researchers can better reach across the research-to-policy gap and communicate research for policy uptake. In the end, their advice boiled down to simple strategies that are all too often lost within the jargon of the research community.

From Honorable Juliana Lunguzi, Member of Parliament, Malawi:

  1. Make it relevant. Explain how the research is relevant to policy―not just in theory, but in the specifics of how we can put it in place and make it operational.
  2. Make it simple. Get to the point, and tell me something I can use. I don’t want to hear statistical jargon―put it in plain language.
  3. Tell a story. Use the data to tell a story about how we can make a change in what’s happening now, and why it’s important to make that change.

From Dr. Esmie Kainja, Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare, Government of Malawi:

  1. Be pragmatic. Be as practical as possible in what you choose to communicate. You have so many findings. I need something I can apply.
  2. Use plain language. Put the messages into simple language that I can read and understand quickly.
  3. Be concise. Keep it short―the shorter the better!
  4. The more you collaborate, the more relevant your research can be. Many ministries have a research agenda. Collaborate with us to define your research questions from the start. When research is complete, help us to use the evidence. If you just give us the findings, it stops there. Collaborate with us and we can work together to use the findings.

The lessons are simple, but that doesn’t mean communicating research is an easy process. Research is complex, and distilling that complexity down to key takeaway messages can be a challenging and time-consuming journey. Our workshop last week gave participants the skills to start that journey―the knowledge that many policymakers want to make more evidence-based decisions will hopefully inspire the participants to persevere.