Our course on Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods (EPRM) hones research skills at the highest of levels, including policymakers from national governments and international organisations. Dr. Mindel van de Laar sat down with course coordinator Cristina Mancigotti to discuss her recent experiences in this role.
You’ve been in charge of the EPRM course for over a year now, with two full intakes. How is it to look after such a diverse group professionals in terms of nationality, age and research interest?
What makes this course so fascinating and worthwhile is the wide range of participants and the expertise of the staff. We gather a group of talented professionals with varying levels of work experience who want to improve their research skills — either to boost their careers or return to academia. Each cohort brings in different research interests and perspectives: we’ve had participants focusing on a wide range of issues such as labour migration, resilience of farming communities, and entrepreneurial ecosystem growth, to name but a few.
As working professionals, they value the role that research can play in policymaking. This puts them in a good place to bridge the gap between research and policy — because in their careers they’ve witnessed first-hand where the holes in policy are. Now, thanks to new skills learnt on the EPRM, they know how to make meaningful and innovative contributions.
During the first residential module which takes place in Maastricht, our world-class lecturers and tutors share their own experiences. Additionally, our EPRM course takes the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach, which allows participants to work in small tutorial groups and engage in pro-active dialogue and work through the assigned material together. PBL really allows the group to share and take advantage of their combined experience.
Their motivation to develop skills together with the interactive nature of the course really brings the cohorts together, especially when they are in Maastricht due to the intense daily workload. In other words, the EPRM course can be seen both as a capacity and network building exercise for everyone involved.
EPRM is a blended learning programme, so we ask participants to join not only face-to-face classes, but also to take three online modules. In your experience, what’s the most important element in these online modules? Where do participants need most support?
As mid-career professionals, some participants struggle to readjust to student life. To counter this, all the instructors and I make ourselves available when the participants are in Maastricht not only during their daily classes but also for questions and comments outside the regular schedule. Once they go back home, having to find extra time for the course besides work and family responsibilities, and switching to an e-learning setting, can be quite challenging. In a previous blog, we discussed the different type of e-learning participation and tips on how to succeed in an e-learning EPRM module but I would summarise it in two points.
First, I always suggest taking full advantage of being in Maastricht to clarify any doubts regarding the course itself, the e-learning platform and ICT and software used throughout the course. We are aware that not all participants are tech-savvy and may require extra time to get used to the online environment, so we allocate time during Module 1 to tackle this challenge.
Second, especially for participants who take the full-time option, it is crucial to reach out to us when necessary and establish a good working relationship with course coordinators and tutors. For this purpose, we always try to engage the ‘silent participants’, for example through discussion boards on the e-learning platform and skype sessions.
What would you recommend to new participants due to start the course in the autumn? And what do you look forward to the most?
As always, I am looking forward to meet the new cohort which, this year, includes two awardees of the Dutch Orange Knowledge Programme Scholarship. We strive to make EPRM participants feel that they are part of the academic community here in Maastricht, and not just attending a course.
We aim to try to build in our programme activities with full-time PhD fellows, and by proposing seminars, PhD defences, or other relevant events happening in and around the Institute. Two of the most engaging activities are the ‘speed dates’ and ‘walk shop’. The former allows the participants to share their research proposals and discuss them for few minutes with several PhDs fellows. The latter is an interlude to the formal schedule and allows the participants to take a stroll around the beautiful Dutch city of Maastricht.
See more details on the course and application requirements here.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers, S.Brodin