RECOUP Dissemination Conference in Islamabad

Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre (MHHDC) is a policy research institute based in Pakistan and as a member of RECOUP – a DFID-funded research programme consortium – is studying the role of education in breaking intergenerational cycles of deprivation.  One of RECOUPs central objectives, in addition to undertaking innovative research techniques combining qualitative and quantitative research, is to communicate the research, its findings, and significance, to policy makers, the research community, government functionaries, and other stakeholders in the development sector. Given the range of potential audience, the task requires a dissemination/communication strategy that targets policy makers and implementers at the federal, provincial, and local level. It also requires a range of dissemination tools ranging from working papers presented at seminars, and newspaper articles to one-to-one presentations with officials at the different levels of government and workshops involving international and national policy agencies.

In Pakistan, effectively communicating research to an often reluctant audience in the policy circles is a challenge. MHHDC has long standing links with the academic and research community as well as the various government departments and committees. In keeping with the RECOUP objectives and recognising the importance of targeting a diverse audience representing all stakeholders, MHHDC organized a consultative seminar in Islamabad to disseminate key findings of the RECOUP (Pak) Quantitative Household Survey (RQHS) 2006-07.

The objective of the seminar was two-fold: a) to inform the academic, research and policymaking community involved with the education sector of the Consortium’s work, the data collected, and its findings; b) to involve these stakeholders in a discussion in order to get feedback on RQHS findings. The research team presented key findings in the form of descriptive analysis of the dataset. This workshop and the research generated a lot of interest: Findings from the section on poverty were of particular interest for the academics and they suggested disaggregated analysis of outcomes at the district levels, by gender, by age group (to capture issues of particular concern for the young children who may not be in school). Results from the section on skills were of particular interest as well, given the renewed interest in the sector by the donors recently.

The work received positive feedback from all participants. Given the lack of quality data available on educational outcomes in the country, the RECOUP dataset was seen as an important contribution towards the assessment of educational policy impact.  The research generated interest amongst international development agencies at a time when there are a number of programs being planned and undertaken that benefit from policy implications arising from the RECOUP research. For example, questions were raised about the use of the RQHS dataset for investigating a number of understudied issues: the role of skills and non-cognitive achievements in determining rates of return in the labour market; gender differences in the nature of and access to health facilities; estimation of the missing dimensions of poverty estimates; and an analysis of educational outcomes for various age categories to highlight the prevalent issues relevant to different social sub-groups. 

The attendance at the seminar however was less than expected. While the organizers had taken care to inform and invite a large number of representatives of relevant government departments, the research community and international organizations, attendance was limited to about 25 people.   A number of other policy specialists (at the multi-lateral and bi-lateral institutions), academics and policy research institutions (some of them in Lahore and Karachi) had expressed keen interest in the report and its findings but were unable to attend. Despite forward planning, the event conflicted with a number of other government functions that were rescheduled at the last minute.

Feedback during the dissemination workshop underlined the importance of informing and involving the government. It was suggested that the results be presented at dedicated policy forums of federal and provincial governments. It was also suggested that policy makers at the provincial level be made aware of the policy implications of the research. One way of doing this could be to include a specific policy section at the end of the report outlining some of the questions raised from the data.

Lessons learnt:

  •  There is a need to organize separate events in different regions of the country to ensure wider dissemination. HDC has since the first seminar, been involved in planning dissemination events at the provincial level, in Lahore and Peshawar, in partnership with regional research institutes and universities. Recently these attempts have been hampered due to the instability in the region. The communication strategy has been restructured to address the changing situation by prioritizing dissemination through print media with newspaper articles.
  • Meeting with the communication representatives beforehand ensures greater interest and attendance. Sending out the reports and working papers to select people vastly improves the discussion at the workshops and seminars.
  • It may not be possible to generate sufficient interest amongst the policy makers, especially at the higher levels of government, and it may be necessary to take the findings to them rather than brining them to the findings. This may be achieved through presentations at dedicated fora, such as the federal and provincial development committees, education management boards and the parliamentary committees.
  • Forging partnerships: Lack of coordination due to the lack of a single platform for dissemination results in many fragmented voices. Partners in provincial capitals across the country are better able to gather the relevant audience in their own regions. Recognising this, MHHDC is planning to engage with research and advocacy NGOs to effectively disseminate findings.
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