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The importance of fit-for-purpose research design

The principle that policies should be designed using the best available evidence is one that is difficult to contest. Proponents of evidence-based policymaking argue that research evidence should also influence/drive policymaking. However, the notion of a linear relationship between evidence and policy is a far cry from the reality. That is not to say that evidence cannot play a key role in crafting policy. Our experience has identified key strategies that can be employed alongside the research process to facilitate the translation of evidence to policy.

Involving reputable and influential actors in the research process enhances the authority of the evidence produced and encourages buy-in from policymakers. Though Randomised Controlled Trials are considered the gold standard for research, they may result in difficult and time consuming field processes. Usually, they achieve too little, too late.  

A variety of methodological tools can be used and should involve a wide range of stakeholders in the production of evidence. Acknowledging that decisions are rarely rational helps to inform the way evidence is presented to policymakers. It should be in simple, clear, uncomplicated language that tells a story and speaks to our emotions. Timing is everything in case of policy influencing. So, when an opportunity appears, one should opt for a methodology that suits the purpose on hand, especially in terms of  timelines.

It must be remembered that the standard methodologies do not always yield optimum and timely results. The research methodology employed, hence, need to be fit-for-purpose, rather than trying to be what is considered the best.

Ultimately influencing policy is more an art than a science. The policy process is a complex system that requires political astuteness and an understanding of the complex dynamics of power.

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