Earlier this month, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) released a report that seeks to answer a compelling question: Does research drive international development?
Through an extensive literature review, the authors examined the evidence supporting the commonly held assumption that investing in research leads to positive impacts on socioeconomic development. One of the specific pathways they explored is whether investment in research leads to development through more evidence-informed policy and practice. While the authors provide several examples of how research has led to policy and program improvements, they also conclude that “there are significant gaps in the capacity, incentives and systems necessary to ensure that research is systematically used in decision making.”
To put it more simply, research can be a powerful development tool if the results are used. Generating new evidence or finding a new solution is half the battle. Only when that solution is adopted in policy and practice can research lead to impact. But, the reality is that no matter how compelling a body of evidence or research finding may be, information does not put itself into practice. As a result, large gaps or long time lags too often exist between what we know and what we do.
Obstacles to putting research into practice
The barriers to getting research into practice are well documented. They include limited end-user involvement in research, weak attempts to communicate research findings and advocate for their use, and research designs that fail to consider the potential for scale-up. Other barriers noted by the DFID report include the inadequate capacity of decision makers to understand and use research evidence and the lack of incentives to drive research utilization. Short of a miracle occurring, overcoming these barriers requires deliberate, planned and sustained efforts over time.