This series tracks news and views from our ‘Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods’ (EPRM) course. Many participants work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other sections of the UN system. In normal times, they come to the City of Maastricht in the Netherlands for this unique blended learning programme, covering a total of three weeks in class and 10 weeks online. This time journalist Krithiga Narayanan gives her perspectives on the programme, her fellow participants, and future plans.
NB, Apply for a Dutch ‘OKP’ scholarship by 30 June 2020.
As a journalist who is part of a news research team, I am required to produce extensive and in-depth news articles on varied topics like policy, development, human rights, environment and law. Hence I applied to study the Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods course at UNU-MERIT, a research and training institute of the United Nations University which is ‘embedded’ in Maastricht University in the Netherlands. I chose this university because of its affiliation with the UN and also because of their expertise and research, which mainly focuses on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
This postgraduate programme trains participants in translating policy issues into research questions and analysing qualitative and quantitative data. It enables students to develop state-of-the-art research in a particular field, and design, write and disseminate proposals for evidence-based research in the workplace or a broader research environment. It covers research skills that transcend different disciplines. And it involves in-class and online-based training. Hence, it is very flexible and suitable for working professionals who are looking to enhance their knowledge of evidence-based research.
Who can apply and how?
The course is meant for researchers from academic institutions or policymakers seeking to strengthen their research competencies and outputs. It is useful for staff at universities, research units within businesses, NGOs, ministries and think tanks.
Incidentally, I am the first journalist to apply for this course. I firmly believe that journalists need to have excellent research skills and a good understanding of policy. I also think that journalism and policy work are two sides of the same coin. These two fields are very closely interlinked. Journalists report, investigate and critically analyse various policies and policymakers rely on journalists to inform the public about their policies and also to improve them. People also rely on journalists for a realistic view about policies. Hence journalists should also be careful not to become just the mouthpieces of policymakers. ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations,’ is a quote often attributed to George Orwell. Policymakers should also not infringe upon the freedom of the press. Hence the right balance between journalism and policymaking is vital for the functioning of a healthy democracy. Also, there have been many instances where journalists have become policymakers and policy analysts and the vice versa is also true. Policymakers and analysts also write journalistic articles. Hence journalism and policy work are two sides of the same coin.
The application process for the EPRM course was simple and straightforward. I wrote a one-page research proposal on a topic of my interest. I am passionate about investigative environmental journalism, so my research proposal was tailored to this topic. Specifically, my research proposal was about finding links between corruption in environmental governance and environmental degradation. I looked forward to learning more about evidence-based and investigative research methods during the course.
Diversity of students at UNU-MERIT
My course mates were from different backgrounds and countries, and this was something I enjoyed as it offered me the chance to interact with a diverse group of people, which further enriched the learning experience. My classmates came from different fields, different countries and had different research interests. As a result, classroom discussions were an enriching experience. We also realised that there was unity despite the diversity. We were united by the problems and issues faced by our countries, and we were also united in our ambitions to resolve them. Some of my classmates worked for UN organisations, the World Bank, the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the Brazilian Education Ministry, while others were academics from various institutions in Japan and the USA. I was also the youngest person enrolled in the class, and this allowed me to interact and gain career insights and knowledge from my more experienced course mates and teachers.
The conversations in the classrooms would revolve around learning how to speak different languages, politics in various countries, workplaces around the world, cultures and traditions, economics, leadership, war and conflict. This course was a learning experience steeped in diversity and that I believe is the greatest of all experiences. A diverse environment encourages you to step out of echo chambers and open your mind to different perspectives and possibilities. As a journalist, I cherish such learning experiences because it helps me to look at things from various angles and capture the soul of a story.
The course experience
The course included memorable online and in-person modules. During the online sessions, there were weekly Skype calls scheduled with our tutors, where we would have group discussions simultaneously with all classmates located in different time zones around the world. During the two in-person sessions in Maastricht, we had the opportunity to network and work on our research proposals, while learning about research methods specific to our research interests. The various modules in the course were research design, proposal development, research analysis, academic writing, proposal presentation and research dissemination. Each participant had varied research interests, and these modules were customised individually. These modules taught me how to research any topic, helped me write a complete research proposal and, at the end of the course, present it confidently before an audience.
We were asked to read many research articles from academics and authors across the world to expand our knowledge of our research interest. This exercise opened my mind to various possibilities and research ideas. I chose to specialise in the Governance module, where one of the reading materials was Fareed Zakaria’s The Rise of Illiberal Democracy. A journalist himself, Fareed Zakaria’s words on foreign affairs and the decline of democracy were eye-opening. This made me realise that journalists need to be more aware of foreign policy, diverse cultures and practices of the world to produce unbiased and credible news articles on international topics from various viewpoints.
After reading many research papers and articles for this course, I now find researching for writing news articles much more manageable. We were taught to use software which helped us sort through and quickly get information from large research papers and data sets. This has helped me to easily set out groundwork for news research articles on international news stories, such as recent articles I have written about world elections, gun culture in the USA, and climate change. As my research interest is investigative environmental journalism, I read many research articles, papers, and investigative stories on the environment and global environmental policies. Through the support of this programme, I am now more confident when I write news stories on the environment. I have recently written stories on the impacts of desalination plants on coastal communities, nuclear waste storage and disposal, drought and the impacts of climate change.
At the end of the course, we had to present a research proposal to senior academicians which can be used to apply for a PhD programme. The knowledge gained from this programme also helps with future career and academic applications, beyond a PhD programme. I found UNU-MERIT to be an inspiring place where a lot of really talented and passionate people come together to produce research on various topics of great social relevance. After attending this course and experiencing the city and the University of Maastricht, I am inspired to apply for their part-time PhD programme in Governance and Policy. This PhD programme is tailored to working professionals, allowing me to research and study policy and also simultaneously advance my career as a journalist. As I mentioned before, journalism and policy work are two sides of the same coin – and I am looking forward to exploring and learning more about both sides of that coin.
This article originally appeared in Women in Foreign Policy and has since been lightly edited. Read the original article.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.