A framework to help government organizations improve their use of knowledge for policy making by understanding context.

A participatory tool to identify the best entry points for change.

Includes experience of 50+ policy makers and practicioners.

Expert facilitators to help navigate complexity and tailor solutions.

A framework to help government organizations improve their use of knowledge for policy making by understanding context.

A participatory tool to identify the best entry points for change.

Includes experience of 50+ policy makers and practicioners.

Expert facilitators to help navigate complexity and tailor solutions.

CLICK ON THE INTERACTIVE FRAMEWORK TO EXPLORE THE SIX INTERRELATED AREAS.


External

1. Macro-context 
2. Relationships

Internal

3. Culture
4. Capacity
5. Management
6. Resources

CLICK ON THE INTERACTIVE FRAMEWORK TO EXPLORE THE SIX INTERRELATED AREAS.


External

1. Macro-context 
2. Relationships

Internal

3. Culture
4. Capacity
5. Management
6. Resources

01. MACRO CONTEXT

Macro context refers to the “bigger picture” in which policy is made. This includes the political, economic, social and cultural factors that surround the policymaking institution and in which it is embedded. 

02. INTRA AND INTER INSTITUTIONAL LINKAGES

Intra-institutional linkages refer to the relationships between related government agencies.

Inter-institutional linkages refer to an agency’s interaction with other knowledge users and producers (such as universities, NGOs or think tanks) who can affect or be affected by policy design and implementation.

These relationships significantly influence how knowledge interacts (or not) with policy. 


03. CULTURE

All organizations have a culture. This is a set of values and assumptions that are generally accepted by those within the organization as ‘the norm’. 

It determines what are acceptable attitudes and behaviours, and this is absorbed by new people who enter the organization. It also shapes the incentives and motivations for how people think about, or use, knowledge.

Sometimes different (and often conflicting) cultures can operate within an organization. This can lead to dysfunctional or suboptimal working relationships. Differences around the use of knowledge in policymaking usually come down to contrasting views within a government agency on how the state should function.


04. ORGANIZATIONAL CAPACITY

Organizational capacity is an institution’s ability to use its resources effectively to achieve its aims.

Internal capacity plays a pivotal role in making the use of research possible (or not) in policymaking.


05. MANAGEMENT AND PROCESSES

Management and processes refer to how an institution organizes its daily work to achieve its mission and goals, from planning to implementation and evaluation. 

The daily work within an organization is largely determined by systems, policies, standards and routine decision-making practices. The management of these mechanisms can open up (or not) chances for evidence to interact with policy discussions and decision-making.

If a government agency has long-term and consistent policy, regulatory and budgetary frameworks that support domestic research and development institutions, then it is more likely to have management process that enable evidence use. 


06. OTHER RESOURCES

There are a number of key resources that affect how an organization systematically gathers and uses evidence. 

Leadership

High-level leadership support for organizational change is one of the main enabling factors to enhance the use of knowledge in policymaking. For example, if those at the top appreciate research, more investment will go towards research units and human resources.

Leaders shape organizational culture. They propose their own leadership values and assumptions on a group. Those values and assumptions come to be taken for granted and define what is acceptable leadership for new members. 

But as the environment changes, some of those values may no longer be valid and leadership comes into play once more. It is then the leadership’s job to step outside the culture and start a change process, so that the organization can adapt and grow.

This ability to perceive the limitations of one’s own culture and to adapt is the essence – and ultimate challenge – of leadership (Schein 2004).

In successful cases of change within a government institution, it has been essential for leaders to understand and address a wide range of incentives and pressures relating to evidence use.  

Leadership is also critical for building skills and fostering expectations for knowledge use, as well as providing "moral messaging" throughout the change processes, reinforcing norms and conducting participatory decision-making processes. 


Senior Management

Management should be distinguished from leadership: leadership creates and changes organizational cultures, whereas management and administration act within the existing culture. 

While senior management can contribute to generating a new culture of evidence use, this usually occurs when higher leadership is already pushing for a broader evidence-use in policy. 

Senior managers often play an important role in interpreting evidence, as well as deciding who advises them and how. For instance, some opt to form expert advisory committees while others rely more on informal relationships with experts they trust.


Human Resources

Government agencies do not always have the resources to hire and retain staff with adequate skills to gather or conduct research, or to manage programmes and resources effectively.

Public servants’ ability to use evidence has been positively correlated to their educational background. Officials with a graduate diploma or postgraduate degree are typically more likely to use research in policy related work. Additionally, in some countries, where local research is scarce, the ability to access research in other languages (mainly English) can significantly affect a policymaker's ability to use it.

The policymakers’ profession also influences their predisposition to accept and incorporate empirical evidence: economists, for example, permanently resort to quantitative evidence to base their proposals/recommendations. 

A range of skills and attributes are needed to enable public servants to identify evidence needs, source evidence, appraise it, synthesise it and communicate it to decision makers. This includes information literacy and IT skills, basic familiarity with research methodologies, and a range of verbal and written communications skills. It also includes "soft skills" such as empathy, political saviness and conflict management. 

High staff-turnover hampers efforts to institutionalize these skills and competencies. 

Legal capacity

Policymakers are constrained or enabled by their agency´s regulations in the commissioning and conducting of research.

Regulations are often so intricate and complex that researchers and smaller research institutions cannot fulfil all the steps and requirements, and thus cannot become regular suppliers of research for a certain government body.

Regulations can also affect the degree to which the agency is able to share the evidence it produces itself and make this available to citizens and external stakeholders. 

Motivations

Personal drivers can play an important role in knowledge use within a government agency. 

People are motivated by their interests, curiosity and values, along with external factors such as reward systems, evaluations or opinions of others. 

Arguably, the best motivator for enhanced working performance and creativity is supporting individuals to behave autonomously and to feel competent. 

Organizational culture plays a significant role in determining the interaction and degree of consistency between incentives and motivations.

Among the many possible motivations for knowledge use in policymaking, the following are worth highlighting:

Demonstrating competence and maintaining good relationships. Policymakers are concerned that they look competent and that they maintain good relationships with other government institutions, civil society and the private sector. In addition to wanting evidence on whether or not a policy has "worked", they want to demonstrate cost effectiveness, acceptability, distributional effects and risk management.

Personal and professional advantage. Within a government organization, managers will be both co-operating  and competing for personal and professional advantage. Policymakers are concerned about the perceived quality, relevance and usefulness of the research by their peers.

A sense of ownership. When policymakers are involved in the design of research projects, it increases the likelihood of the research being used. It can also help to tailor the findings to the policymakers’ needs. When demand for evidence arises within a country’s political economy (as opposed to external demands, such as from donors) there is increased ownership.

Openness to change

Does the organizational culture enable critical inquiry, curiosity and support risk-taking and innovation?

Bureaucrats often reinforce the idea that there is no need to change or innovate (“it has always been done this way.”)  

Stakeholders who benefit from the status quo have an interest in maintaining it. This gives preference to existing frameworks and evidence that confirms the efficiency of existing practices.

The political economy of change must not be underestimated. Does the organization have a sufficiently flexible structure to allow new groups or units to form? Does the institutional environment allow for restructuring? Are there resources - or can they be generated - to introduce a new way of working?

Finally, openness to change is closely linked to a government’s willingness to admit failure. This is particularly relevant for evidence arising from M&E efforts. 

Beliefs and values

Beliefs and values play a crucial role in how knowledge is used within a government institution at two levels: 

1. The policymaker’s existing beliefs and values relating to a policy issue

Prevailing narratives, societal norms and values can influence how evidence is used in a specific policy issue. If an issue is stigmatized (i.e. abortion), policymakers may be reluctant to acknowledge the issue to avoid losing voters or political support.

Similarly, policymakers may consider history or tradition that bestows legitimacy on a practice as evidence that it should continue.

2. The organization’s values relating to evidence

Some government agencies have developed a culture of efficient information management and knowledge use. This may be due to tradition, the will of individuals or staff characteristics. 

Conversely, in some agencies collecting and appraising research is regarded as “non-work” by those who need to appear to be taking action.

Indeed, an organizational culture of doing can become a barrier to knowledge use.

Enabling staff to undertake and familiarize themselves with research requires a balance between thinking and doing. 


Incentives

Incentives are the promise of something external in return for an action or activity (as opposed to something that is “intrinsically / internally motivated”, which means that it is done in the absence of external rewards or incentives). 

For example, mid-level policymakers will use evidence to the extent that it is considered important in their organization and to the organization’s leaders.

Promoting an institutional culture of learning from mistakes, rather than one where mistakes are punished, can help overcome a compliance-based system and encourage departments to actively use evidence to solve problems (rather than avoid them). 

Leadership and senior management is responsible for putting in place incentives and processes that require, enable and/or reward civil servants to commission and use evidence 

Conversely, the absence of performance management indicators makes efforts to promote the use of research more challenging. 

The existence or absence of electoral incentives to use research evidence (or political costs for not using evidence) also bear significant weight. This is especially true in contexts where citizens demands sound arguments and evidence to support certain policies.

Remuneration is another important incentive. If staff are poorly paid, they may resist new ways of doing things, or are not striving for more efficient ways of working. In the research context, this is exacerbated in environments where the incentives structure encourages staff to scramble for short-term consultancy work, rather than focusing on long-term projects that could strengthen their research skills.

Opportunities to upgrade knowledge, skills and qualifications through capacity building are other concrete forms of incentives to promote the use of research in government agencies.


Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are two increasingly implemented processes that help to generate internal knowledge. This is linked with the overall organizational culture and whether it embraces learning or not.

Increasingly, governments are understanding the value of M&E in helping to accurately determine which investments and public interventions work, which don’t and why.

However, the remaining challenge is the institutionalization of these systems in the general dynamics of public sector information management. 

Further, evaluating policies does not ensure the results of the M&E will be used to change policies or practices. 

Unless there are processes in place to ensure the use of M&E findings, policymakers have to be convinced about the power of such recommendations in order to use them.

The recommendations also need to be feasible within the bureaucratic rules of the public sector; most evaluations end with recommendations that then need to be translated into operational actions within the public sector, and in that process, sometimes they lose their goals. 


Communication processes

Effective internal and external communication processes are critical for building good relationships with stakeholders and enabling evidence gathering and use. They can also enable transparency and accountability by providing clarity to external stakeholders about what evidence was used in decision making and how.

Communication of research within government institutions is often poor, due to dispersed research production processes and variable quality of research outputs. 

Furthermore, communication between ministries to establish common research topics is often lacking. Ideally, agencies engage early on about what research to commission and how or when to involve external stakeholders in the process.

On a positive note, some institutions are very effective at communicating their research: producing periodical formal research reports; publishing engaging outputs to present research findings and analysis; and developing mechanisms to engage diverse stakeholder groups with the research. 


Positions, including division of work and roles and responsibilities

Another crucial aspect is how staff roles and responsibilities are defined and distributed  (i.e. whether they include use of research or not).

When policymakers are given a functional specialization (i.e. they are expected to be experts in a specific policy domain) they are consequently more likely to generate or listen to research.

Sometimes, the division of responsibilities within government bureaucracies limit the use of evidence; individual civil servants are compelled to focus on one small policy area, making it difficult for them to engage with ideas beyond their immediate area of responsibility.

The creation of positions such as policy analyst or researcher can increase the demand for knowledge and promote the incorporation of a new cadre of well-trained policy staff. This in turn could improve uptake of evidence into policymaking. 

Degree of systematic planning

Systemic planning is important at the national-level and at the individual government agency level. 

In both cases, institutional planning can open up opportunities to incorporate research into policy-making processes.

For example, a government agency mid-term strategic plan can make researchers aware of important policy questions and challenges, and therefore inform research agendas. 

Plans are also a solid reason to generate new evidence, and to evaluate what's working. This can enable continuous feedback loops between research, policy, implementation and monitoring.

However, if there is no flexibility to incorporate emerging issues, in some cases planning and resourcing models can work against the ability of researchers to be responsive. 

It's important to coordinate planning and budgeting to open up windows of opportunity to gather and use new knowledge.


Existence of formal processes to access and use evidence in policymaking

It is important to have formal processes within agencies to enable evidence use. For example, evidence-based peer-review processes for internal policy briefings; committee inquiries that require parliamentarians to gather evidence to scrutinize government policy; and requirements for spending bids to be supported by an analysis of the existing evidence base.

It is more frequent to find formal processes to generate and use existing data (for example, national household surveys) than those for commissioning of new and/or dedicated research. 

The use of information tends to be more institutionalized for existing and systematic data gathered by the state. In contrast, research produced by external stakeholders is used to inform a specific policy discussion, design or an aspect of its implementation. 


Time availability

Lack of time inhibits policymakers’ capacity to use evidence. 

What's more, there is often a lack of synchrony between research and policy – the evidence comes after the policy decision has already been made. 

Availability of time will vary according to the type of decision being made, and how much agreement there already is about the policy problem and its potential solutions. It also varies according to organisational culture; those which do not value learning may be less likely to enable staff to spend time gathering and analysing evidence.

Technology

Technology plays an important role in enabling the flow and production of policy-relevant knowledge. For example, in many low- and middle-income countries, unreliable internet may prevent policymakers from accessing relevant research. 

Additionally, many states have not computerized existing information and so it is not readily available when relevant. This is also true for knowledge management across government departments, with agencies working in technological silos.

Having digital tools to manage information could allow for a more efficient and timely use of knowledge. However, the availability of this infrastructure does not necessarily mean it will be effectively accessed or used. There is therefore also the need for a comprehensive capacity-development effort to ensure the use of new technology.


Budget committed to research

Lack of funding for gathering and processing data, research and other evidence is one of the most cited reasons for limited generation and use of knowledge in policymaking. With limited funding, governments are unable to train public servants to undertake quality research and analysis, or to commission specific research.

Even when a government agency makes a budget commitment, there may be additional bureaucratic hurdles for public servants to access these resources in an effective and timely way to support gathering and use of data and research. 

Lack of budget also limits the ability to apply research findings. For example, evidence may suggest that a programme is working and it should be scaled up or extended, but governmental agencies may not have the resources to do so.


Existence of a knowledge infrastructure

The existence of a good knowledge management infrastructure in government departments will affect how policymakers consult and use research. 

In public agencies there is a lot of informal information circulating. For this data to be available in decision-making processes, it needs to be stored in some kind of system that orders and makes sense of it. These structures - often called information systems - enable knowledge generation and transfer. In turn this supports planning, monitoring and evaluation. 

Information systems are also used to support other functions, such as administrative acts or reviews, or simply filing information.

To be efficient, these systems must address users’ needs. The usefulness of an information system lies in its reliability (decisions are made based on the generated information) and its timeliness (information must be available when decision-makers need it).


Degree of power distribution in the political system

How power is distributed in a political system involves multiple factors. For example:

These factors can enable research to be involved in policymaking processes or, on the contrary, constrain it.

Research is most likely to be used in transparent, democratic contexts with strong academic and civil society institutions and a free media. On the contrary, in centralized political systems the concentration of power can prevent pluralistic debate and different types of evidence.

Another important factor is the weight of congress/parliament in the decision-making process. For legislators to be able to use research effectively, the executive must cede, lose, share or exchange the power it holds.

The distribution of power among political parties is also very important. Programmatic parties / policy systems tend to use research more than non-programmatic parties / policy systems. 

Consultation and participation in policy processes and accountability

Generally speaking, democratic openness supports evidence use in policymaking.

Within more democratically open governments, public consultation and participation in policy processes tend to be the institutionalized norm, which establishes a more conducive environment for research use. 

More open and participatory policy processes mean that other interested parties – such as lobbying groups, coalitions, civil society groups and citizens – can play a more active role in policymaking. They can contribute new evidence and contest or share their interpretation of existing evidence. 

State regulation of lobbying and advocacy, therefore, is another important factor in how different groups are able to participate in policymaking.  

The media also plays an important role in shaping this participation.


Knowledge regime

Knowledge regimes refer to all the organizations and institutions that play a role in generating ideas, data, research and policy recommendations within a country. For example, think tanks, universities, NGOs, government research institutes, and private consultancy firms. 

Within this, there are several key aspects to consider:

Availability of quality data. Where there is a lack of quality data, policy arguments are more likely to turn to power and prejudice. Laws on public and private access to information can affect availability of quality data. Also relevant, is whether or not policymakers can access available data.

Funding. Higher investment in research and development tends to lead to greater demand for research. In turn, increased demand stimulates a country’s capacity to produce research evidence – both in the government and private sector. Low expenditure on research and development can result in excessive reliance on foreign technical advice.

Labour market. Universities, think tanks and private research institutes are all important parts of a country’s knowledge regime. And the degree to which they are involved in policy processes affects how the evidence they produce informs policymaking.

Critical thinking. Low levels of evidence literacy in policymaking institutions have been linked to low levels of critical inquiry in academic institutions. Other factors affecting critical thinking and the production of diverse evidence include a lack of South–South or South–North research exchange and “brain drain.”

Policy relevant research. Even though there might be a good number of research centres and universities in a place, if the knowledge they produce is disengaged from policy problems, the chances of it being used are limited.

How science is valued by society. In some countries, people are sceptical of expert knowledge, and so there is less demand for scientific research. In such countries, other knowledge producers (universities, civil society organizations, companies and government) will find it more difficult to produce quality, policy-relevant research. 

Strategic planning culture

At the national level, a culture of medium and long-term strategic planning can provide a useful framework for policy-relevant knowledge generation and use. 

Planning often spreads from the top, down to all government institutions. It sets priorities for future planning, reform and capacity-building. Consequentially, demand for related evidence is clearer and more concrete. 

However, planning can sometimes lead to new ideas emerging from research being disregarded if they do not fit into previously defined goals or plans. 


Discretionary decision making and corruption

Discretionary decision-making is when a policy decision is made by an individual, or group of individuals, based on their values, interests or beliefs (rather than being based on evidence). 

Oversight mechanisms (checks and balances) guard against discretionary decision-making and ensure accountability in the use of public resources. This can create a better environment for research to be used in policymaking. 

Conversely, arbitrariness, corruption, rent-seeking, cronyism and “influence peddling” in public agencies significantly diminish the potential for research to inform policymaking. 


Prevailing policy narratives and ideas

How policymakers frame a policy problem – including whether they accept, or how they interpret, research findings and recommendations – is heavily influenced by the dominant public narratives and ideas about the policy issue.  

Take for instance genetically modified organisms (GMO). Some societies may reject GMO science and this will impact how a decision-maker defines the state’s interests in relation to GMO, or who they go to for advice and evidence on the issue.


Circumstantial factors

Crises and transitions can disrupt the regular decision-making landscape and open up unique windows of opportunity for incorporating research into policy. 

These can be short-lived “policy windows,” during which an institution is temporarily more receptive to research uptake. 

For example, regime changes might bring new attitudes towards knowledge and a more conducive environment for research use. 

Disasters, conflict or insecurity can also give rise to demand for evidence. However, the urgency to reach a consensus for decision-making in such a setting often hinders the use of new sources of information.

Electoral processes are also key milestones when it comes to the use of evidence: it is important to look at whether electoral candidates and their teams are open or averse to incorporating evidence into their discourses. 

Popular pressure and the desire for faster economic growth and improved public services is often a motivator for reform. In turn, this can stimulate new demand for research. However, public opinion does not necessarily have an impact on the uptake of research.

Transitions in government administration are another moment in which some policymakers are interested to show “how well” their programmes or agencies have been working. Evaluations, policy diagnoses and organizational designs tend to be requested at the end or beginning of a government administration.


Usual factors

There are a number of other factors in the macro context that are widely acknowledged within the literature as affecting efforts to promote better use of knowledge in policymaking. These include:


Flow of information between jurisdictions and levels

The flow of information between different levels of government and jurisdictions is usually more complex in countries with federal government structures. 

National agencies’ access to information generated by local agencies, and vice versa, is often limited by the degree of political affinity or distance between parties. 

The same is true across similar levels of government: different agencies tend to share more or less information depending on their political affinity.


Degree of capacity for use evidence in different sections and departments

Some departments have high-level researchers and significant budgets while others lack expertise: this impacts on the depth and breadth of knowledge use. 

Policymakers may be less willing to use research when they were not involved from the start, or when it comes from other agencies. Therefore, engaging policymakers at all stages of research production can help overcome limited capacity or willingness to use research.

Another challenge is that sometimes research is not directly linked to the policy agenda. For example, research may be commissioned for a different purpose and while the results are relevant to the policy problem, they have not been translated or presented in a way that policymakers can easily understand and use it.


Support from governmental agencies that produce data and research

This refers to the interaction and trust between a government institution and other governmental or parastatal bodies (such as national research or science councils, statistical and policy analysis institutes, strategy and planning units, or departments and directorates). 

For example, whether these relationships are hierarchical or horizontal, or rigid or flexible, will influence how relevant knowledge is produced and shared.

Where there is limited interaction or trust (institutional silos) access to existing research and evidence for policymaking will be limited. 

Coordination among agencies

In some situations, a lack of coordination between agencies can significantly deter the sharing of research – or result in the duplication of research. 

If a policy issue cuts across government departments (for example, an environmental protection policy may involve health, environment and infrastructure agencies) then co-production of knowledge across departments, or with other specialist research institutions, should be encouraged. 

If public agencies notice that other agencies have received good media attention for the data they have published, they may be motivated to follow suit, creating a “spread effect.”


Policy domains

How government institutions interact and share knowledge varies between different policy domains. For example, social services and health policy generally have high levels of research use. 

Whether or not a policy domain uses evidence depends on a number of factors, such as the endorsement of evidence use by high-level policymakers, or the amount and quality of available research.

Existence and types of policy forums and epistemic communities

Ongoing and institutionalized interactions between policymakers and researchers help to build trust. This can positively influence policymakers’ views of evidence. 

Within these interactions, “epistemic communities” (that is, colleagues who share a similar approach on an issue and maintain contact with each other across their various locations and fields) that include prominent and respected individuals can create new channels for information and discussing new perspectives. 


Formal channels of interaction with researchers and research institutions

Systemic or institutional channels are needed for policymakers and researchers to interact and collaborate, both formally and informally.

Without this, engagement is extremely limited. 

However, even when a channel is created barriers to engagement include limited time on both sides, and differing incentives and motivations. 


Number and type of civil society actors involved in decision processes and degree of vested interests

Vested interests 

Strong vested interests tend to decrease evidence use and limit the scope of policy reform. 

Research is unlikely to be used if the required reforms go against the interests of important political players.

For example, if research findings run counter to the interests of various stakeholders – such as religious groups or private sector stakeholders – the evidence is less likely to be used.

Civil society’s ability to hold decision-makers to account

An educated public that demands that its political leaders justify their decisions, will likely lead to broader and more frequent use of knowledge in decision-making. Indeed, links have been found between higher public literacy rates and greater use of evidence in policymaking. 

Number and type of civil society organisations involved 

There are many types of non-state actor that can play a role in policymaking – such as businesses, marginalized groups and the media. 

Their relationship to and participation in policymaking processes will differ significantly depending on their resources, and the roles and interests between these stakeholders.

Status of consensus on the policy base

Policymakers are more prone to use evidence that has been validated by the public (the voters).

Therefore, research evidence is more likely to be used if it is complemented by a systematic approach to gathering the views of people that resonates with the research findings. 

Relationships with donors

In many developing countries donors play a long-term role in funding knowledge production, as well as shaping knowledge-to-policy process. 

This means that policymakers frequently have to anticipate donors' responses to policy formulation. Sometimes this results in policymakers not considering relevant local research.

Researchers may find themselves responding to research questions or agendas that have evolved from foreign donors rather than from the national development context itself. 

If the political leadership does not request analytical input, technocrats may find it difficult to take advantage of knowledge produced with support of external donors. 

Moreover, as many donors need to take care of relationships with governments, showing negative results is frequently avoided.