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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.
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)
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