Policy research is a type of research that provides communities and decision makers with pragmatic action-oriented recommendations to address issues, questions or problems. It is usually linked to the public policy agenda, and it can provide useful information when developing public policies. Generally, policy research efforts (1) begin with a social issue or question, (2) evolve through a research process to develop alternative policy actions to address the issue, and (3) communicate the alternatives to policymakers. This page will guide you to decide whether research and publishing is an appropriate strategy for your advocacy by explaining its benefits and limitations. It will then outline the types of policy research that you may choose to engage in, and provide practical advice on conducting policy research.
Adopting research and publishing as a policy advocacy strategy?
Research and publishing can be a great way to position yourself as an expert in the field, to help set a national or international agenda, and to provide information to a broader audience. Good research can also help you establish a baseline and can inform your campaign strategies overall.
However, given research and publishing is time consuming, your research and publishing should be contributing to your policy advocacy goals. Research and publishing is best conducted as a part of a broader campaign strategy and is typically ineffective as a standalone activity. If you choose to pursue publishing, it should be because you want to put something out there that has not been said yet, or needs further elaboration. Consider:
- Will publishing this work position you as a thoughtful leader?
- Will publishing this work clarify an unaddressed issue in the field?
- Will publishing this work have a tangible impact?
The benefits and limitations of research and publishing:
- Great for agenda-setting
- Opportunity to make specific recommendations to a broader audience
- Allows you to provide clear and detailed analysis
- May position you and your organization as a thought-leader
- Not usually a way to quickly advocate for change
- Is very time consuming to do well
- Can be difficult to measure its impact on your policy goals
Types of policy research for advocacy
The role of research in advocacy varies widely, and include aims such as to (1) recognize problems and identify issues, (2) understand key issues, (3) support a selected plan of action, or to (4) evaluate and monitor progress. Evidently, the type of policy research that you will conduct depend on the aim of your policy research. Several types of policy research are listed below.
- Focused Synthesis: a selective review of existing research
- Secondary Analysis: examining data from existing databases
- Field Experiments: to collect and analyze information on how effective a particular strategy is in addressing the issue. This is useful in gathering evidence on the potential impact of policy change prior to implementation, as well as monitoring and evaluating the impact of a policy change after its implementation.
- Survey: used to gather data on an issue and its causes. This may include personal interviews, written questionnaires, and polls.
- Case Studies: to record and analyze the experience of an organization or community regarding a specific issue. This can be used to better understand the behavior and other variables surrounding a situation. It can also be used to examine the process of how a policy action has been implemented.
- Cost-benefit Analysis: a set of methods adopted by researchers to compare at the cost and benefits of alternative policy options.
For a sample of a piece of policy research, you may refer to the Global Refugee Work Rights Report at the bottom of the page.
Conducting policy research for advocacy
The steps to plan your advocacy research may include:
- Identify the main topic or research question on an issue.
- Narrow down to a sub-issue to generate sub-topic or research question.
- Determine your source of information. Depending on the type of information that you are seeking, this may come from the media, official statistics, polls, specialized policy analysis unit and think tanks, academic institutions, and traditional knowledge.
- Identify possible researchers and partners that may contribute to your research.
- Determine your data collection and data analysis methods.
Some best practices to follow:
- Be sure your writing is tied to the pursuit of your policy advocacy goals.
- Ensure that the identities of your clients are always protected. For more information on this, visit the Confidentiality section in Operate and Manage.
- Carefully choose the forum for publishing. You should try to publish in a forum which you expect your target audiences are likely to read.
- Develop a communications strategy that promote your writing. Your published work is only as effective as your promotion of the piece.
Academic research vs. advocacy piece
It is important to distinguish between objective social science research and advocacy. Social science is very helpful when trying to understand and present a situation objectively. This may be helpful, for example, if you are trying to demonstrate refugees’ economic impact on a host country. If you decide to conduct a social science research study, you may want to partner with an academic institution. Academic institutions are experts in at developing research questions, sampling, choosing a proper methodology for implementation, and presenting both qualitative and quantitative information. If you decide to undertake your own research study, it may be helpful to consult experts in research design.
If you are simply seeking opportunities to publish advocacy pieces, you do not need to present objective information. Advocacy pieces can helpfully shine light on a specific theme, or on a particularly vulnerable person.
- Ten Steps for Conceptualizing and Conducting Qualitative Research Studies in a Pragmatically Curious Manner (Roland Chenail, 2011)
- Global Refugee Work Rights (Asylum Access and Global Refugee Work Rights Coalition, 2014)