Abstract are distinguished as policy-oriented Think-tanks given

 

Abstract

The vital role of
science-based policy is increasingly recognized globally. Various scientific
advisory bodies are distinguished as policy-oriented Think-tanks given their functions
in guiding national and regional governments with evidence-based policy advice.
The direct and indirect linkage of soil science to the Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) is an invitation for soil scientists to begin to translate scientific
jargons and findings to understandable documents relevant for policy making. The
additional role of Nigeria Institute of Soil Science (NISS) in providing
national and regional governments with evidence-based advice could be facilitated
with clear and concise policy briefs, fact sheets, position papers, among
others. This will require NISS creating a platform for soil scientists and governments
to be on the same page and understanding each when it comes to issues on soil
and development. On the one hand, most soil scientists are confronted with the
lack of know-how to engage with policy makers. There is also, the non-application
of research to policy. Again research findings presented in ways that are equivocal
to policy makers understanding and unusable for decision making. The objective
of the paper is, therefore, to highlight the need to link scientific research
to policy. Additionally, the role of NISS in providing a platform for its
scientists to communicate research output to policy makers through policy discussions
and briefs. It is expected that production of policy briefs, fact sheets and
position papers by NISS in addition to its regulatory functions will contribute
to ranking it among national think tanks in the short run and a global think tank
in the long run.

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Keywords:
Policy
brief, soil scientists, think tank, policy dialogue, Nigeria

Introduction

It is evident that most
scientific research outputs, products and tools developed by soil scientists as
well as other scholars are not in the domain of government policy makers as an
input to decision making on national development problems. According to Choi et al., (2005), scientists work to
advance science, adding to the body of knowledge through publications in
scientific journals. The main focus of scientists / researchers are becoming
“Dr / Professor” or its equivalent rank. Until now, researchers in research
institutes and universities in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa consider their
work concluded when their research outputs are published in journals,
monographs and other technical outlets (AWARD, 2014).  Soil scientists like other scientists set out
in their research to address national development problems or contribute to
knowledge in a particular area. They. rarely consider getting the research
findings to the policy makers for up-take in policy making. Uzochukwu  et al.,
(2016) noted that communicating and integrating research findings into  the policy making process of government and
the act of communicating research output to policy making is still a challenge particularly
in low and middle income countries. There is no convergence between soil
research output and policy making. Arising from the no convergence, AWARD
(2014) compared research scientists and policy makers as two creatures from two
different planets speaking different languages. The challenge for soil scientists
like other natural resource scientists is that of presenting research outputs
in formats beyond their academic domain colleagues for galvanising,
understanding and collaborations from other scientists and policy makers. The
Nigeria Institute of Soil Science (NISS) in addition to regulatory functions must
therefore inculcate the skill and build interest in advisory and advocacy into
both its members and practitioners. It must provide the platform through its
communication unit for processing research output into forms that can easily be
taken by practitioners and policy makers. The institute should also be the
vehicle for taking policy briefs, facts sheets, position papers among others to
policy makers. Engaging in policy backed research and informing policy,
requires commitment from the researchers on the one hand. On the other hand, capacity
needs to be developed in communicating the core message of research findings
effectively in non-technical language to a non-technical. In this direction the
NISS will need to incorporate in its mandatory continuous professional capacity
development programme training in communication for policy.  The objective of the paper and presentation is,
therefore, to highlight the need to link scientific research to policy making and
the role of NISS in communicating research outcome to the policy makers through
targeted communication strategies.

Interest
of Soil Scientists and Nigeria Institute of Soil Science in Policy

Scientific research
findings can shape policy making by contributing to the whole policy
development process, including the initial development, implementation and
evaluation. Globally, government is increasingly leaning towards evidence-based
policy. Sound policy making depends on the government receiving a flow of
reliable information from learned professional and regulatory bodies. The
Nigeria Institute of Soil Science (NISS) provides the useful platform of organizing
policy dialogue and linking soil scientists with policy making processes. Obada
et al., (2002) noted that there has been
little interaction between policy makers and researchers. This is a gap and additional
function NISS will be expected to fulfil.

Nigeria Policy
maker

 

Nigeria Soil
Scientist

 

NISS
communication unit
 

 

Fig. 1. Framework for linking
soil scientists and policy makers in Nigeria

 

Policy making in
government is not only dependent on scientific evidence but also on a lucid
understanding of local context challenges and opportunities and posture of
society to ensure political stability and the economic wellbeing of the society.
The interest of soil scientist in research is first getting outputs to scientific
journals and grant funders whereas policy makers are accountable to the nation
(present and future) political party, government and taxpayers (Choi, et al., (2005).
Figure 1, demonstrates NISS as a potential convergence point for both the
interest of scientists, policy makers and general society. The NISS has an
institutional capacity and platform to generate fact based comprehension of
cross-scale issues, modelling the implications of multiple alternative
solutions and present them using target communication approaches.  One of such approaches that is basic and have
been employed as information line between policy, practice and science is
policy briefs.  Therefore, the framework
recommends this as an additional role to be shouldered by the institute through
its communication unit.

Though few policy makers have
the science background they rarely have the time to search the pages of scientific
journals to pick inputs for policy making. According to AWARD (2014), they are
more likely to pick up scientific messages from a newspaper report or social
sites than from a scientific paper. Policy makers generally may not appreciate
the relevance of conventional science to their work because of scientific
jargons, statistics and lack of relationship of research findings with the
needs of people they represent in parliament.

Sometimes little time is given
to make decision and policies and therefore they obtain the most easily
accessible source of information to support the policies they suggest. When
they need scientific information, they often retrieve it from secondary
sources, which have simplified complex concepts and analyses (AWARD, 2014). The
soil scientists taking advantage of the prestigious NISS platform can make a
difference by creating a win-win situation with sound policy briefs and other
policy instruments as presented in Figure 1.

 

Policy
Brief communications and publication

Policy brief is aa tool produced
to support an advocacy campaign with the intention to engage and persuade
informed non-specialist government policy maker. According to FAO (2011), it is
a concise summary of a problem, the research had set out to resolve, it should
contain the policy options to deal with it and some recommendations on the best
option (s) based on research findings. According to Jones and Walsh (2008) and ICPA
(2017), policy brief is one of the most popular tools used globally by Think-tanks.
It is a communication document targeted at government policy makers and others
who are interested in formulating or influencing policy. Two types of policy
briefs namely; Advocacy brief and Objective brief are recommended by FAO (2011)
and ICPA (2017). Whereas advocacy policy brief presents facts in favour of only
a particular course of action, objective policy brief gives balanced
information placing on the table various courses of action for the policy
makers to make their own decision.

FAO (2016) in its Food
Security Communication Toolkit outlined things; a policy brief should do to
include:

v Provide
enough background for policy makers or readers to understand the problem

v Convince
the policy makers / parliaments the problem affects national development and
must be addressed urgently.

v  Provide evidence to support that only one
alternative exist (in an advocacy policy brief).

v Provide
information about alternative options open to resolving the problem (in an objective
policy brief).

v Help
non -technical reader and policy maker understands the issue and also stimulate
him to make a decision.

 

The FAO and United Nations University Institute for
Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) advised that

v  Policy
brief should not be more than 2 – 4 pages maximum bearing in mind government
policy makers are busy people. They are busy with meetings, busy with many
subjects that demand their attention at the same time. Politicians may not be
interested in reading the lengthy report. Hence the policy brief must look
attractive and timely addressing a current national or developmental problem.

v  Politicians,
policy makers, parliamentarians come from different fields and educational
backgrounds ranging from non-degree to degree and are not all science oriented.
Therefore, policy brief must be written in simple, non-technical language that
helps the non-technical reader understand the complex issues and solutions
recommended.

v  It
is very important for scientists to note that policy makers have their views on
the subject and has also received views on the same issue from other political actors.
Information should be short, easily digestible and with clear arguments,
avoiding “ifs and buts”.

 

Structure
of Policy Brief

Although various
structures have been used by different think tank institutions, common elements
found in most policy briefs as proposed by FAO (2011), Oku et al., (2015) and ICPA (2017) is presented below

Structure of Policy Brief

Focus

Title

Keep
it short, catchy  and sticky

Executive summary

Aim
to grab policy makers’ attention. State the specific problem in one or two
paragraphs.

Rationale for policy
options

State
the problem and why something different do. Bring out the striking facts that
have led to the current problem and the failure of existing solution or
policy.

Proposed policy options

State
research solutions (what to do and or what not to do). Give options
considered and argument on why one option over the others.

Policy recommendation

Application:
how to implement: demonstrate the feasibility and fit of the options.

Reference

Not
extensive detail reference, but few to establish your authority.

Link to original source

Where
is the full argument, state where the detailed scientific report that gave
birth to the policy brief is reported? Example, this policy brief is prepared
from a UNU-INRA working paper entitled “Using Vetiver Technology to Control Erosion
and Improve Productivity in slope farming”.

Contact details

Who
is the author? The focus in policy brief is not only on the paper also on the
author presenting the policy options/recommendations. Stakeholders may
consult the author for detail on the recommendations and implementation.

Adapted from FAO (2011)
and Oku, Ayielari and Asubonteng (2015)

 

Reference

African Women in
Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). (2014). Research proposal
writing course for post-master’s and post doctorial AWARD Fellows and AWARD
Mentors participants workbook. Nairobi, Kenya.

Choi, B. C., Pang, T.,  Lin, V.,
Puska, P., Sherman, G., Goddard, M. and  Clottey, C. (2005). Can scientists and policy
makers work together? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59
(8), 632 – 637.

FAO, (2011) Food security
communication toolkit. www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2195e/i2195e03.pdf. (Retrieved February 21, 2017).

 

International
Centre for Policy Advocacy (ICPA) 2017. An essential guide to writing policy
briefs, ICPA, Berlin, Germany.

 

Jones, N and Walsh, C. (2008) Policy
briefs as a communication tool for development research. Working and discussion
papers. Overseas Development Institute. Available online:
https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/
odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/594.pdf.

 (Retrieved February 21, 2017)

 

 Obadan, M. I and Uga, E. O.  (2002). Think tanks in Nigeria. In: Mcgann J.
G, Weaver, R. K (eds.). Think tanks and civil societies, catalysts for ideas
and actions. Transaction Publishers New Brunswick (USA) and London (UK).

OECD (2015), Scientific advice
for policy making: the role and responsibility of expert bodies and individual scientists,
OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 21, OECD Publishing,
Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5js33l1jcpwb-en.

Oku, E. E, Aiyelari, E. A.  and
Asubonteng, K. O.  (2015) Controlling
erosion and increasing crop yields in slope farming: a vetiver technology.
United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA)
Policy Brief Vol 3, July.

Uzochukwu, B., Onwujekwe, O., Mbachu, C., Okwuosa, C., Etiaba, E.,
Nyström, M E., and Gilson, L. (2016). The challenge of bridging the gap between
researchers and policy makers: experiences of a Health Policy Research Group in
engaging policy makers to support evidence informed policy making in
Nigeria. Globalization and Health, 12, 67. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-016-0209-1.

von Winterfeldt, D. (2013). Bridging the gap between science and
decision making. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110
(Supplement 3), 14055-14061.