7 types of policy makers and what they mean for getting your research used

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So you are out there with some results on a program that works and you really want to get your research used. And you’ve managed to schedule a meeting with a policy maker who is in a position to actually use your work. Maybe they even called you. As you start to discuss things with them, one key thing to think about is what that policy maker is looking for. Based on my experiences with this, there are seven types of policy makers, and knowing your counterpart’s type might be helpful in figuring out how to pitch your discussion:
 
  1. The Quicksand:  the absorber of ideas and time without sentience.    This policy maker is confused about the project they are supposed to be designing and met with you (or even sought you out) because they heard you had an interesting idea.  It’s not clear they will actually use your idea and they are talking to a lot of different people to get inputs.    They can take a fair amount of your time (e.g. asking for clarifications).    It’s not clear this project will work, so it’s best not to spend too much time with them, relative to other policy makers who are more ready to put evidence into action.
  2. The Validation Seeker: This is someone who was already thinking that the intervention you have researched might be a good idea. They are looking for evidence on the size of impacts that they can use to justify this to whomever they report to. The more skeptical/thoughtful folks in this group will have questions on external validity and how best to adapt the intervention to their particular context.
  3. The Innovator: This group ranges from people who are excited about the “hot new thing” to those who are frustrated with the same old approach. This group cares less about the magnitude of impacts and is more likely to be satisfied just to know the intervention works. Here it’s important to show what is new about what you are doing and what sets your intervention apart from others in the same family.
  4. The Bonus Seeker: Let’s say you have evidence on a job training program that increases women’s income, but also lowers the fertility rate of the beneficiaries. In the coincident benefit type, you’ll find people who are thinking about job training programs and will be excited to hear that this program has other benefits they (or the people funding their work) care about. You may also meet people who are considering a fertility-targeted program who are excited to hear that they could impact this and income at the same time, although since that’s not the usual program they think about, it’s likely to be harder to convince them (see my blog post on this issue here).
  5. The Carer:  Part of why I love my job is that there are a significant number of policy makers who care about making people’s lives better.  For these folks it’s important to emphasize a) that the intervention works, and b) the size and duration of benefits. Showing those benefits relative to impacts from other programs (or the fact that these alternatives have no rigorous evidence) will also be useful.  
  6. The Empirically Driven Carer: A subset of group 5, these folks are likely to know the existing evidence (or the lack thereof). Putting the impacts from your study in context relative to others will be important. This group is also likely to care about cost-benefit or cost-effective comparisons as well.
  7. The Repeat Customer: This policy maker has found your research (and/or your command of relevant other research) useful in the past.  You’ll face less skepticism than from other types. Don’t mess it up.

Two final thoughts. First, types 6 and 7 (and to a lesser extent 3 and 5) have discussions about your research which often will not only lead to them adapting your intervention, but also can lead to a new, second generation impact evaluation. Be prepared for this to come up in the conversation.

Second, these types overlap and can be thought of as aspects of policy makers rather than types. Indeed, policy makers may switch type within the same conversation. So, even if you think you have an idea what the policymaker is looking for initially, be ready to shift. 
 

Join the Conversation

Aidan Eyakuze
February 07, 2019

Loved your blogpost, Markus. It’s like one of those pocket maps of an unfamiliar city showing you the quickest, or cheapest way to get to the next famous attraction. Twaweza is initiating the third stage of a significant research initiative aimed at improving basic learning at grades 1, 2 and 3 in Tanzania through a cash-on-delivery teacher incentive scheme called KiuFunza (NBER Working Paper can be found here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w24876). Two RCTs have yielded promising results and we have agreed with the government to repeat the intervention, this time using government data, communications and oversight (school quality assurance) systems. We want to test three things. First, can we replicate or at least approximate the learning boost we detected in the first two experiments? Second, how ‘do-able’ is it using government systems? Third, how politically and bureaucratically acceptable is such a teacher incentive scheme even if it proves to be powerful and cost effective? Having read your post, I instantly recognized that in our engagement with our government partners, we are encountering a few Validation Seekers and two powerful Empirically-Driven Carers. I have already started refining the content, tone and style of my next progress report that is due in March (see, I am already using your research). I do have a question though: do you not think that there is a missing ‘Self-Promoting’ policymaker to include? This is the politically-savvy policymaker who spots in your research idea their own express route to a promotion? Just a thought.

Markus Goldstein
February 07, 2019

Thanks for sharing Aidan.   You raise an interesting point.  Two potential directions in response: 1) if the person you are engaging with is 100% self promoting, then you care about the types of the people with the power to promote them or, to be a bit more complicated you care about what the policy maker you are engaging with thinks their bosses' types are (which i guess you could just ask them -- be on their side in the self promotion battle).   The second case would be where you get a mix -- so for example, some folks are after the next big thing because they think it will get the noticed.  In this case, maybe, this helps you tweak the message -- not "this is the next big thing" but "wow, if this works people will be coming to you from around the world".  

Sue Cant
February 11, 2019

This is fantastic!