Research into development issues is not an end in itself. If knowledge created by researchers is shared and debated publicly, it is more likely to be adopted by policymakers and practitioners. Too many research reports sit on library shelves gathering dust. Today there is growing recognition of the importance of research uptake.
According to the UK's Department for International Development 2008 research strategy, a vital issue in the future is how to improve researchers' effectiveness in producing outputs that can change policy and practice and truly address poor people's needs. The strategy commits DFID to devoting a greater proportion of its resources to promoting the use and uptake of research in order to influence policy.
The media are known to play a role in the communication of policy ideas. At times, policymakers use newspapers as a source of information and quote from newspapers in parliament or when speaking on radio or television programmes. They also use radio phone-ins to gauge public opinion, and participate in them. Media debates can fuel public interest and concern over particular issues, adding to existing pressure on governments to change policy. However, the conditions under which the media engage with, and report on, research and evidence to influence policy debates and outcomes, and the factors that strengthen their capacity to do so in developing country contexts, remain relatively unexamined. This briefing looks at the media's capacity to generate public debate using research to influence policy outcomes. It provides insights on how to strengthen that capacity, drawing on commissioned case-study research from Uganda and Jamaica.
- Drawing on available research and evidence from the field, this briefing finds that the political and institutional context, including the degree of representativeness of government and the vibrancy of civil society, is important to understanding the capacity of the media to generate public debate around research and evidence, and to influence policy outcomes. The following factors strengthen the capacity of the media to do so:
- the capacity of journalists to use research to create stories that capture the public's interest and are related to existing and emerging policy-making agendas
- the capacity of researchers to produce policy-relevant research and to work with intermediaries to present such research in a way that the media can use
- the capacity of civil society activists to pick up policy-related research and drive public debate around it
- the strength of the relationships among these actors – journalists, civil society activists and researchers – and their associated organisations, and the degree of openness and trust among them.