Strategic communication, lobbying and networking are some of the fundamental elements in public policy research. Ideally, without these elements, a well-researched and well-written policy paper will remain meaningless if poorly communicated and to the wrong audience. Because of this, we dedicated our third Policy development seminar to this topic.
From Friday, August 24th to Sunday, August 26th the Youth4Policy fellows were led through a program, that combined improving the fellows written policy research, as well as introducing them to essential forms of communication in a political-economy environment.
Hence, the weekend started with an individual session Friday afternoon, in which the Youth4Policy fellows were given the opportunity to work on their own policy research: individual meetings with their focal persons and mentors which enabled participants to evaluate their personal experiences so far, assess the progress of their policy research and identify areas for further support.
The second day of the workshop mainly focused on how to communicate in a political environment. First, Yusuf Kiranda, Director of the Center for Development Alternatives, made an input presentation on policy lobbying and advocacy. In an interactive question and answer session, the fellows shared their own experiences in an open dialogue session. third was preceded by Michael Mugisha on strategic communication, networks and networking in policy work. Here, he underlined the context and the consequences of thoughtless communication:
“Communication depends on the context and your audience. Take the media as an example. The media is always portraying the government as the enemy. For many different reasons, like motivating them into action. But how do you react when you are being attacked? Protection! This is why media reports could have led to the estrangement of the government. So, if you want an issue to be addressed, you have to be creative. You don‘t want to unintentionally become the opposition.“ This is the reason why Mugisha recommended strategic communication within a political context: “Your task as a policy researcher is to find simple, harmless solutions, which can have powerful positive effects in the future.”
Mugisha pointed out the role of networks for spreading the results of policy research, but also underlined the danger of being connected to the wrong kind of networks: “If you are connected to wrong networks it might harm your reputation or connect you to political stands you do not share. But if you are connected to the right networks, it widens your social capital, you receive good feedback and it improves the reception of your paper.”
The discussions held during the day provided a basis for continued sharing at an evening networking dinner with Dr. Isaac Shinyekwa, head of Trade and regional Integration (EPRC), Hon. Dan Kidega, former Speaker of the East African Legislative assembly (EALA) and Human Rights Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo.
Each of the guests encouraged the fellows to think of themselves as leaders of today, not tomorrow. “You are only young depending on how small your ideas are.’’ emphasized Hon. Dan Kidega. He continued to share his story of how he started as a youth counselor, went through the institutions in the aftermath to fight for youth representation in national politics and ended up representing the young Uganda generation first in the Ugandan parliament and later in the East African Parliament.
Dr. Shinyekwa was thrilled about the interest for policy research by youth. Shinyekwa underlined the necessity of the Youth4Policy Fellows to understand the global trends around the topics and sectors they are researching. More importantly , he emphasized the need to create deliberate networks and develop a communication strategy “It is all about packaging the results of your research in a way that helps you get the information across. You have to think of the audience you want to address and to what form of communication it will respond to the most.”
Finally, Opiyo encouraged the fellows to be confident not despite of their age but because of their age: “You have to be confident in yourself and your message. You must think of what makes you different. You might say the same things others said before, but you are saying it in a different way. It is all about framing your topics!” He advised the fellows to make their policy research unique with the ability to add value to what already exists.
On the final day of the seminar, the fellows could work on their research and precise it with their focal persons. Following that, the participants each got the opportunity to present their emerging results and receive feedback from the other fellows and mentors. “Giving me the opportunity to sit down and work on my paper was really good. These 3,4,5 hours, in which we just sit and conceptualise is really helpful.” One of the fellows said.
Having ended the 3-day workshop with fellows sharing their work plans and planned strategies on how they envisage to disseminate their policy research to respective stakeholder was powerful. Some of the ideas shared on this included making documentary videos, holding policy dialogues, writing short articles of respective policy briefs, media appearances like TV shows, among others. Conclusively, the seminar created space for ideas, thoughts and encounter between focal persons, mentors and fellows, something that was greatly appreciated by all participants.