Social Relationships Are at the Heart of Knowledge for Development

March 7, 2017

Leading social scientists, non-governmental organizations, donors and policymakers from around the globe launched a collection of articles titled “The Social Realities of Knowledge for Development.” The collection that was launched at a high profile event convened by Institute of Development Studies, Overseas Development Institute and International Institute for Environment and Development highlights the implicit social nature of evidence-informed decision making.

APHRC contributed two chapters to the collection. Pamela Juma, Associate Research Scientist, wrote Evidence-informed decision-making: Experience from the design and implementation of community health strategy in Kenya with Dan Kaseje. Danielle Doughman, Policy Outreach Manager, contributed Using knowledge brokerage to strengthen African voices in global decision-making on HIV and AIDS with co-authors Kathy Kantengwa and Ida Hakizinka.

Jointly funded by the ESRC- DFID- Impact Initiative for international development research and the Institute of Development Studies, the collection also brings to the fore the importance of relationships and networks throughout the process of research impact, which can be scattered and intangible.

James Georgalakis the co-editor of the collection and Director of the Impact Initiative says, “While it has been easy to share significant successes of getting research into action through impact awards and case studies, it has proved much harder to institutionalize any learning from these. Put simply, the development sector has continued to struggle to repeat the trick of turning research into action.”

In their introduction, the co-editors, James Georgalakis, Nasreen Jessani, Rose Oronje and Ben Ramalingam, emphasize a key-takeaway message from the collection – that while technical capacities matter, research to policy processes are fundamentally social.

They indicate a number of factors that underpin the social realities of knowledge for development that include:

  1. Capacity of individuals and organizations in terms of knowledge and skills to engage in policy processes
  2. Individual relationships that facilitate influence and knowledge brokerage
  3. Networked relationships and group dynamics that connect up the supply of knowledge with the demand for it
  4. Social and political context, culture and norms.

In her foreword to the collection Sarah Cook, Director, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre highlights: “This useful collection illustrates the varied and complex pathways through which research, knowledge or evidence may (or may not) be taken up by policymakers and practitioners. Drawing on examples of research into policy/practice relationships, from context-specific action research, to engaging with embedded, national policy institutions and global processes.”

The trend for, and debates around, evidence-informed development has expanded considerably over the past three decades. It emerged in the 1990s in health as an outcome of evidence-based medical practice. However, despite this history, and as many commentators suggest, the progress in how well evidence informs development policy and practice is at best uneven.

The Social Realities of Knowledge for Development is the latest offering from the Impact Initiative’s Impact Lab. The Lab has been assessing the key barriers to research impact, documenting case studies and publishing a series of Learning Guides on evidence informed policy and practice.

To download the collection for free and access the Learning Lab’s other resources go to: