What ROMA is – and is not

As noted, ROMA is an approach to improving how you engage with policy to influence change – it is not a blueprint for making policy change happen. As Chapter 1 shows, most development problems are complex and cannot be addressed by interventions based on an idea of linear change. Where the problem itself is complex, the environment within which policy is made will also be complex, and there are too many unknowns to just roll out a plan and measure predefined indicators. Learning as you go will need to be the hallmark of your strategy: using the phrase ‘it’s complex’ should become a trigger for interesting exploration and reflection – not a means of ignoring difficult issues that do not fit your plan.

Second, ROMA is a whole system approach – not a step-by-step methodology. The steps and tools outlined in Chapter 2 fit together in different ways, and there is no single ‘best’ way to use them. It is important to understand all the ROMA steps and how they relate to each other before working out where to begin planning for policy influence. ROMA is also scalable: it can be applied to a small intervention, such as the promotion of research findings during an international event, or to a large multi-year programme or campaign to bring about changes in a particular sector.

Third, ROMA is a process of constant reflection and learning: it is not just a means of collecting better data or an evaluation methodology. Because it can be complex, policy engagement faces many different challenges: what the goals really are, who to engage with, how to do it and how to cope with evolving contexts. Overlaid on that are challenges any organisation faces, such as demonstrating financial accountability and good governance and achieving objectives efficiently and effectively. This means collecting information about a variety of issues over different timescales while ensuring data collection does not become an end in itself. Chapter 3 outlines the different reasons for monitoring that link learning to action.

No individual part of the ROMA toolkit will give you a single right answer to the question of how best to engage with policy. While they are probably best used in the sequence shown, at each step you will be encouraged to reflect on whether you need to revisit previous actions in the light of work completed. For example, developing your engagement strategy may reveal gaps in your change theory; revising this may lead you to add a bit of nuance to the outcomes you can expect and thus prompt you to broaden your policy objective.