News: Policy directions and implications for impact: The ESRC-DFID RLO Annual Workshop 2019

Julia Hayes, Inclusive Creativa


Policy directions and implications for impact 

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RLO Workshop illustration 1

Julia Hayes, Inclusive Creativa

Producing innovative, rigorous, and policy-relevant research on how to raise learning outcomes globally is the key ambition of the ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems (RLO) Research Programme. We know that the evidence base in education is expanding - but is this research having an impact on student learning and practices? How do we know? And do relationships have a role in increasing research impact and helping promote ‘what works’ in education?

A recent two-day workshop of more than 50 researchers from the partnership’s 30 world-class research grants provided the opportunity to consider these key questions; as well as the needs and priorities of non-academic users and how best to communicate the impact of their research with them.

Organised by the Programme Research Team Lead (PRL), Impact Initiative, ESRC and DfID, delegates (from countries including Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa as well as the UK and the United States) were also able to build networks (see the event network map below), explore opportunities for collaboration and share approaches and challenges to evidencing impact and research dissemination. 

Three sessions were led by the Impact Initiative which were designed to help projects consider ways of strengthening impact and share knowledge about communicating research to end users:

1. Policy Uptake

Drawing on case studies relevant to RLO research, a panel of policy actors discussed the challenges of translating evidence into policy and practice – providing clear examples of how to translate evidence into education change in low-resources settings. Speakers included Laura Savage (Deputy Team Lead, DFID Education Research Team); Victoria Brown (Education, Monitoring and Evaluation and Development Consultant, Ichuli Consulting) and Joseph O’Reilly (Head of Education Policy & Advocacy, Save the Children).

Laura Savage gave her top tips on how researchers could maximise their research impact which included: 1) Focus on the intervention not the research 2) Have a "Show and Tell" item for policymakers - this is valuable in getting them to pay attention 3) nurture and build relationships and 4) use understandable terms in impact stories. 

Reflecting on policy advocacy & dialogue, Save the Children's Jospeh O'Reilly talked about how this takes place over a long period of time & how researchers need to approach policy dialogue as a long term strategy. He made the case for "small actionable information which can deliver gains."

2. Writing for Impact 

Rich discussions were facilitated by DfID Education Advisors on the grant holders’ experience of collecting different types of evidence for documenting impact, and the challenges of translating that evidence into impact narrative from a practitioners persepctive.

Taking DFID’s own education research portfolio as the backdrop, DfID avisors provided advice on on the structure and format of research communications and advised not to underestimate the role that relationships and effective communication can play in increasing engagement with - and the impact of  - education research. In the context of DFID’s own work, such relationships may include for instance the trust and clear communication between DfID advisors based in the UK and front-line researchers in partnering countries and institutions. Effective relationships between these and other partners in the system can help align sometimes divergent incentives and motivations, and bring education policy and education research into closer alignment.



3. Future Collaborations

Using the Dragons’ Den format, research teams were asked to connect with at least one other project over the course of the workshop to form a pitch for support for a policy engagement activity and not for more research. The ‘Dragons’ were DfID Education Advisors who discussed which idea they wished to take forward and allocate real Impact Initiative resources to make things happen. In total three teams pitched - all of which had potential to be taken forward. Watch this space! 

RLO Illustration 2

RLO Illustration 2

Julia Hayes, Inclusion Creativa

Reflecting on the event, Rona Bronwin, DFID Education Advisor said: “It was a great opportunity for DfID advisors to connect with RLO researchers and their project partners from around the world. The workshop helped us to work through some of the challenges and opportunities for impact at DfID.” 

Pauline Rose, Education Thematic Lead, Impact Initiative concluded: “Having policy practitioners present at the workshop was crucial in helping us better understand the needs, process and requirements from key stakeholders in promoting evidence-based policy and practice in low-income resources settings.”

Programme and booklet

You can download the progamme booklet here:  RLO Programme for Grantholders_FOR CIRCULATION.pdf

The Impact Initiative has produced an overview of education research encompassing 30 projects focused in 24 countries which have been enabled by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) Strategic Partnership through the ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems (RLO) Programme.  

How the Impact Initiative can support you

The Impact Initiative exists to connect policy makers and practitioners with the world class social science research supported by the ESRC-DFID Strategic partnership. We work directly with grantholders of The Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research, and The Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programmes. We seek to identify synergies between these programmes and their grant holders, support them to exploit influencing and engagement opportunities, and facilitate learning.

The Impact Initiative has resources to support:

  • Capacity building sessions around engaging with non-academic audiences such as development of impact plans and media training. Check out our Impact Lab resources.
  • The facilitation of meetings between researchers and research users such as interactions with INGOs, DFID, in-country policy actors and civil society organisations.
  • The organisation of policy orientated events that promote evidence emerging from the ESRC DFID portfolio.
  • Showcasing your research to non-academic audiences with the co-production and targeted dissemination of tailored outputs including impact stories, blogs, policy briefings and multimedia.
  • The archiving of the full text of your research outputs in an open access repository to maximise their accessibility. The Impact Initiative open access repository collection has already received 27,000 downloads.

So, if you are an ESRC DFID Joint Fund or RLO grant holder, whatever the status of your grant (new, live, closed) we would like to hear about your ideas for maximising the impact of your research. 

Please contact us by emailing: Please quote the title of your project and the grant reference number in your email.