Realising the need for a short and targeted report. It’s been over three decades since researchers seriously began to write policy briefs, at least in the sphere of international development. After producing heaps of research reports targeting policy makers, researchers realised the need to write shorter and targeted report of their research, outlining key policy related messages and recommendations for the benefit of policy makers. This has been a major shift in the way research for development business is conducted around the world.

But the problem persists. Now this tradition is epitomised by the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishing ‘summary for policy makers’ after global scientific assessments. Research think tanks from across the world have produced a plethora of policy briefs based on policy research. But are policy makers really reading and responding to all those policy reports? Obviously, not to the extent expected.

Our experience shows short policy briefs produced by research organisations are still too technical and presented in the language and framework of the research. There is still a huge gap between the ways policy makers harness knowledge and researchers think policy reports should be crafted.

Policy makers do not find solutions in research reports! There is a huge difference between the ways researchers and policy makers think about and frame socio-environmental problems. Researchers emphasise questioning assumptions and generating new justified beliefs. Unlike research, policy makers look for ideas and solutions that can help them make decisions. Researchers’s messages in policy briefs are often framed as ‘policy implications’ of their research findings.

This means policy makers find research reports treating decision problems as after-thoughts, and hence not helpful in solving problems. There is a clear disconnect between policy actors’ expectations and the content offered by researchers for the benefit of policy makers.

Researchers accept the problem but lack solutions. Many researchers are aware of this problem, and despite this, we are intrigued to see a lack of innovation on how research findings could be crafted better as policy messages. The industry of knowledge production and use is either dominated by science or decision makers – scientists produce and publish and then leave the scene, while decision-makers consistently make judgment and decide.  There is no established role for knowledge brokers yet – although it is emerging. El Gore’s work to communicate IPCC findings is one innovative example of communicating science to the wider public.

Policy engaged researchers need to learn the science and practice of research communication. There is a role for boundary workers (linking researchers and decision makers). In addition, our experience shows that engaged researchers should also become more policy smart in communicating their work. They have greater authenticity to get their research message heard directly.

Of course, not every research has an aim to contribute to policy – so not all researchers need to think about communicating research to the policy community. But a large majority of research does have a goal to contribute to innovation and development, which can not be achieved without influencing policy in some way.


How IFSD is tackling this chalenge. Confronting this challenge, a team of IFSD policy researchers is exploring how policy messages could be crafted better. We are hoping to suggest some generic strategies for better crafting policy briefs or summary for policy makers. I am putting some efforts into it because if we find ways to present the research message rightly, policy makers are likely to buy-in the message to decisions and then through implementation.

After all, policy makers have the power to make a difference in the society, something researchers are less privileged to do. Any powers researchers have is mostly through their ability to influence policies and practices. So why not we put some thinking into this? If you want to join us, drop an email to us: