Understanding influence: the episode studies approach

In this chapter from the book, The Politics of Trade, published by the International Development Research Centre, Fred Carden provides a broad overview of the Episode Study technique as well as surrounding issues in understanding the impact that research has on policy.


"In spite of many years of research and a large number of studies, the influence of research on policy is much debated and poorly understood. Progress in understanding has certainly been made but much remains to be done. The communication of approaches to policy influence in communities of researchers is critically important. It is also not easy. The links between research and policy are indirect; the relationship is often emergent over very long periods of time; the role of research frequently goes unacknowledged; it is not easy to disentangle the influence of research from other factors; and research findings and recommendations may be overtaken by sudden political, economic or social transitions in a society that make them more or less relevant.

These effects are all compounded in a community that commands a relatively weak position in its field—as is the case for many developing countries in regional and international trade negotiation where (rightly or wrongly) the institutions in Washington and Brussels play a central and powerful role. As Joekes and Medhora (2001) note, institutions matter in this field, and “the global system remains biased towards addressing the imperatives of rich and powerful countries, and because capacities to take advantage of opportunities in the trade arena are weak in developing countries.” Two of the studies in this volume focus especially on this issue: Mably’s review of the ICTSD support to the G33 and Narlikar & Tussie’s episode study on the G20 both focus on challenges in strengthening the position of developing countries in the global trading system.

That, in sum, is what makes these episode studies important and potentially useful if they can contribute to strengthening ability and capacity in developing countries to take advantage of opportunities in the trade arena." Carden, F. 2009.


  • Episode studies
  • What to look for in the chapters
  • Context
  • Approach
  • Research/action
  • Success factors
  • Trust
  • Research quality
  • Communicate with people
  • Communication of ideas
  • Representativeness
  • Timeliness
  • Conclusions
  • References


Carden, F. (2009) The Politics of Trade, The Role of Research in Trade Policy and Negotiation, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

'Understanding influence: the episode studies approach' is referenced in: