Careers in Public Policy Research: A Guide for Aspiring Researchers

Session Report
Nivedita Sinha

On Day 10 of the Public Policy Qualitative Participatory Action Research Fieldwork
Fellowship- Cohort 2.0
organized by Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, the participants gained insights into a career in public policy research from a veteran in the field and were also taken through the process of writing a research article from start to finish.

After introductions and the Welcome address by Prof Vibuti Patel Ji, where she gave the participants an overview of the sessions held so far, Dr. N Manimekalai, director for the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi guided the participants on the a career in research and publications. She began by explaining what research is and how it is imperative to the field of public policy.

Public Policy refers to a plan of action pursued by the government or government backed agencies to achieve a particular goal. Research is important in every step of public policy. Research helps us diagnose and identify the problem, it can inform the strategy, and help decide between the different policy options and it gives an unbiased view into the isusue at hand. At the same time, it can provide retrospective justification for the problem and it can be an alternative to the praxis itself. Researchers can find employment in those organizations which are looking for policy-making and strategic interventions in their areas of expertise. It can spread across the local NGOSs to the national, regional and international organizations.

This is why the researcher must combine the findings of quantitative data and qualitative research in order to find the gaps in the existing policy. In the case of participatory research the researcher must sit with the people, live with the people and understand the answers to the question – What are their real needs? Only this kind of research will produce real outcomes that the people desire.

A career in Public policy requires a deep and sensitive understanding of the legal landscape in the country, have a passion for driving positive change in the society, and also be able to commit to research and development at the local grassroot level. The stages policy goes through are the problem definition stage, the agenda setting, development stage, adoption, implementation and finally evaluation, and the role of the researcher is necessary in each of these stages. The researcher can work in any specialization of their choice, ranging from environmental policy, human rights, healthcare, education, criminal justice reform, sexual abuse, to migration.

Policy officers are needed to gather data, assess, advise and implement policy effectively. They work with different government departments, think tanks, legislators and all the stakeholders and they advice the policy implementing ministries based on their findings. They can also be employed as a grant officer, an international development officer, a public program officer, analyst, consultant, and other options specific to the legal field – all of
which are allied fields in public policy and research.

There are also options to be a research assistant or analyst, work in a research think tank and to work as a legal consultant. Prof. Manimekalai was very helpful in providing the participants with several lists of organizations that have options for funding and research for young researchers.

During the question and answer session, she also commented on CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility opportunities where public policy experts and researchers can work too.

In the second half of the Day 10 of this fellowship, Ms. Vaishali Singh, researcher at IMPRI took the participants through the various stages of writing a research article. The first step is to find a research idea where we begin identifying a topic of interest to us and and developing a brief abstract, which has a background description of the problem and your primary research questions.

The second step is to conduct a literature review of existing literature to identify gaps, and controversies, and areas that are underexplored. Then we formulate the hypothesis. By this time, we should have the necessary data to narrow down our research and contextualize it base on what existing scholarship is present in our field of choosing.

The next step is to formulate the research design which includes defining the research objectives based on the identified gaps from the literature review. The research methods can vary depending on the question but it can be – experimental, observational, qualitative, or qualitative in nature. We must also identify a research design that includes your sampling technique at this stage. After this, one must do their data collection and analysis using data collection methods. Then, we will hopefully have the answers to our research questions or hypothesis. The next step is the heart of the paper which is writing our manuscript. The convention is to write an introduction, Methods, Result and Conclusion.

She then took us through the table of contents that must be present in the final product
of our research article which include our title page, the index, the list of tables and figures used, abbreviations used, followed by an executive summary, the introduction, methods, results and conclusions, and the literature review at the end. Every paper should have the references at the end in the citation style of one’s choosing. When it comes to publishing, after submission, there is a peer review process and only then does the paper get published in the journal.

This brings us to end of the program, by this time, the participants were well-equipped with the potential for different careers in public policy and research and were also trained in the process of writing a research article.

Read more at IMPRI:

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Acknowledgment: Nivedita Sinha is a research intern at IMPRI.