Making Research Work for the Poor: Research for Development

Knowledge, policy and power in international development: a practical framework for improving policy

By Harry Jones, Nicola Jones, Louise Shaxson and David Walker


This background note discusses a four-fold framework for analysing the interface between knowledge, policy and practice. There are se several ways of ensuring e.g. by influencing the content of policy dialogues and documents; supporting inclusive policy- making by ensuring that all voices are heard, and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of policy processes. The authors argue that it is not a case of working on only one of these; but rather working across them in order to improve content, process and inclusivity simultaneously.

The paper’s point of departure is a quote by Kofi Annan (1997) that: “Information does not belong to one ideology or another, knowledge is not the privilege of one creed or conviction. If information and knowledge are central to democracy, they are the conditions for development. It is that simple… It is our duty and our responsibility to see that this gift is bestowed on all the world’s people, so that all may live lives of knowledge and understanding.”

As our understanding of the ways in which knowledge influences policy has grown, so too has the complexity of the policy arena in both developed and developing countries. International development itself has become more complex still, with pressure on donor resources under the accountability agenda and an increased emphasis on multiple layers of governance rather than delivery by the state alone. Models of the policy process have evolved to address this complexity, though the authors argue that ‘policy-making’ is now such a broad term that it cannot be examined using a single model.

The authors argue that the inter-face between knowledge and policy is influenced by four common dimensions:

  • political context features that cut across state types to varying degrees and that shape knowledge-policy interactions (including spaces for participation, informal politics, constraints on power, and the ability to absorb change)
  • the relative strength of actors involved in knowledge production and policy-making, the distribution of their interests on the issue and the interplay of values, beliefs and credibility
  • the salience of the different types of knowledge generated and sought
  • processes of knowledge interaction – those processes that mediate between sources of knowledge and policy decisions and that can be facilitated by so-called ‘knowledge intermediaries’.