Policy Advocacy and Strategic Communications

Advocacy

Although there are many possible interpretations, we focus here on advocacy approaches adopted by IR teams to modify (or maintain) implementation approaches or programmes. This specific goal is frequently referred to as ‘policy advocacy’ and comprises the process of awareness-raising and sensitization through which opinion leaders and decision-makers take ownership of research evidence and conclusions, and ultimately act upon them.18 Policy advocacy can be characterized as:

  • A strategy to affect policy (or implementation) change or action — designed specifically to start and direct, or prevent, a specific change in implementation policy.
  • A process to influence those who hold decision-making power, and/or those who inform them.
  • A deliberate process of persuasive communication — intended to help the primary audience(s) to understand, be convinced by, and take ownership of the evidence presented. Trying to make a change in public policy can be a relatively slow process as changing attitudes and positions may require ongoing engagement, dialogue and negotiation.

In essence, advocacy in the context of IR is focused on building ownership of new research evidence, core ideas and implementation recommendations.

Strategic communications

The traditional basis for research and scientific communication is to share research results accurately and objectively, as a means to facilitate its rational and detailed scrutiny by peers – the peer review process. While peer review remains a valid component of IR (as described above as part of end-of-grant KT activities), strategic communications involves the sharing of information and ideas with a distinct goal or intention in mind.

As already mentioned, the goal may be raising awareness or policy advocacy, for example, and the specific strategic communication approach adopted will be determined according to how best that goal can be achieved. It goes beyond the simple ‘delivery’ of research evidence, to bring together the optimal approach to selecting, designing and promoting specific types or areas of information in order to make the achievement of the desired goal more probable.

Strategic communication may be regarded as the antithesis of traditional forms of scientific reporting and the rigours of peer review, and may therefore not be the first instinct of researchers. For this reason, it is important to include communications professionals in the IR team from the outset, as appropriate.

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References