At the Power of Partnership conference held in Delhi in December 2018, The Impact Initiative trialed a new conference activity. It was intended as a way of sparking ideas about future ways to work together to achieve impact. Taking the format of the popular Dragons' Den TV show where entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to potential panels of investors, we developed an innovative session where we asked research teams to connect with at least one other project to form their pitch.
We had three clear objectives:
- To form research partnerships and present policy actors with relevant knowledge rather than simply the results of a single study.
- We asked researchers to pitch for support for a policy engagement activity and not for more research. This met our criteria – that we support brokering and uptake work not research itself.
- Our Dragons were from amongst the delegates in Delhi - all of whom hold senior positions in multilaterals, development agencies and bilaterals. This way the pitches would have to be framed for policy.
And so with the stage set, we heard from 12 groups involving 30 projects from the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation’s rich portfolio of research, with exciting ideas ranging from: running youth workshops, to policy roundtables, panel events at key conferences, and the production and dissemination of research in policy, and practice-friendly formats. The feedback and discussion this session produced was just as significant as the individual pitches themselves and the format provided a rich environment for reflection on the challenges and opportunities around coherence across research projects, and the framing of evidence for policy.
Post conference each of the successful participating pitches were asked to write up their idea. These short concept notes were then discussed involving members of the Impact Initiative team and the lead researchers. This enabled us all to discuss the details and to ensure that we proceeded with achievable activities and timetables.
In some cases, this led to researchers co-authoring papers and blogs that the Impact Initiative helped to coordinate and disseminate. Other, more ambitious, activities included supporting the participation of a range of grant holders at the National Youth seminar in Ethiopia and another on a sustainable cities event in Dhaka.
These events provided the opportunity to work with grant holders to identify policy opportunities to share their research and the result was overwhelmingly positive.
“Lessons that emerged from research findings and discussions will be relevant for development of policy that accounts for the urban challenges faced by new migrant populations in the country”. Mr MA Mannan, Minister for Planning, Bangladesh at Safe and Sustainable Cities Dhaka event.
At the National Youth Seminar, in which two projects collaborated to present their research to inform the new Ethiopian governments National Youth Policy. Matiyas Asefa Chefa, of the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth noted: “Today I have heard lots of interesting and fascinating points raised in these discussions, we must incorporate these issues in the policy-making process because they are vital for our future policies.”
At both events the grant holders were also supported in communicating their research findings. At the Future Cities event, participants received a Research for Policy and Practice paper, meanwhile a series of blogs and Impact Story were published in the leadup to, and following, the Marginalised Youth Seminar in Ethiopia.
There is strong evidence of how grant holders value these publications to showcase their research. One grant holder said: “The production of a policy and practice-oriented report commit[s] to South-South learning partnerships and promotes an iterative dialogue between different research teams breaking disciplinary silos and developing capacity across and within projects.”
The Dragons' Den activities also demonstrated how the brokerage role of the Impact Initiative has supported grant holders to collaborate on events. This was particularly evident when two sets of grant holders came together in a workshop in Kenya to discuss research on motorcycle taxis, mobility and track construction with research on urban food-security.
Together they met with motorcycle taxi unions; market traders association, etc. and local policymakers to explore local opportunities to further enhance and support the role of urban and rural motorcycle taxi transport in addressing urban food security challenges.
Dr Krijn Peters, Swansea University wrote, “This activity has provided new connections and kick-started new ways of thinking. We are currently formulating a Statement of Intent with all the stakeholders involved, which will act as a discussion document, if not a template, for other African secondary cities in addressing the challenges of urban food security and the role of (motorcycle taxi) transport in connecting farmers with markets in this context. To be continued…”
But if we are to learn from these experimental techniques, we need to be honest about what didn’t work so well.
In the ideal world we would have had more time for researchers to prepare their pitches at the event. The activity was convened amid a packed conference schedule and some people present felt under pressure and unable to deliver the clarity of message that they would have liked. From a practical point of view more time was needed for the follow up calls and refinement of the ideas than was first envisaged.
Unlike the Dragons' Den TV show we did not have huge amounts of money to invest but we had modest sums and willing hands. Several researchers reflected post event that they would have preferred to know exactly how much money was available so that they could be more specific about what was possible.
So, in short – the format requires some tweaking to make it a more streamlined activity, but the Dragons' Den method was fun, engaging and thought provoking. It provided unexpected opportunities for new collaborations and we will be using it again in a future event. So watch out for the Dragons return!