Research uptake is a method of conducting research that involves thinking about who, what and why people or organisations, including policy makers, might want to use the research being undertaken – or even contribute to research design. Research uptake involves the design of institutional and departmental research strategies, developing mechanisms to “translate” and communicate research for non-academics and training staff in communicating research evidence, and engaging with external stakeholders early and often.
The principles behind research uptake are not new in themselves. Other terms used to describe aspects of research uptake might include: research communication, science communication, research translation, knowledge mobilisation, knowledge exchange, knowledge brokering, knowledge management, knowledge synthesis, implementation research, stakeholder engagement, knowledge dissemination and diffusion, university extension and research utilisation.
What is new is the growing recognition of the benefits of engaging with potential research users in the research design process, and the centrality of research uptake to the wider research mission. In this sense, research uptake isn’t an additional layer of activity beyond the normal research process – but, rather, it comprises a holistic approach to the conceptualisation, design, conduct and communication of research itself.
“The focus of Research Uptake is on ensuring that research is taken up in policy or practice. The quality of research is therefore very important, as is the extent to which the research is grounded in and contributes to the broader body of evidence in a particular area. The cost (human and financial) of making policy or practice recommendations that are not supported by the overall body of evidence can be high.” Alison Bullen, Organisation Systems Design (OSD)
Research uptake recognises that, while academics are pressed for time and may already be juggling myriad other responsibilities, there are significant benefits in communicating and engaging external stakeholders with research evidence.
It helps academics and their institutions to be better recognised for their contribution to society in improving the well-being of people and in increasing our knowledge and understanding of the world around us
A solid track record in research uptake can impress upon research funders that the academics and their institutions take seriously the need for research to have impact – and thus there is a clearer “return on their investment”
Research uptake should not be viewed as an additional burden beyond the normal production and dissemination of research, but rather that it is a strategic approach to conducting research itself. Rather than an extra piece of work, research uptake is a kind of “research philosophy” that can influence how research is designed and communicated
While research uptake still has a traditional focus on building, validating and disseminating knowledge, it also has a stronger focus on maximising the conditions for the application of new knowledge to achieve outcomes that have a wider impact. In this sense, research uptake is not only about the research “supply” (i.e., how academics and research managers approach the question) but also about research “demand” (i.e., how policy makers, business leaders, community actors and media might apply research evidence and how they can be sensitised to the benefits of engaging with university-generated research evidence in the first place). This wider, systemic approach to research uptake is critical to ensure that, rather than simply broadcasting research findings, we are engaging findings with clearly identified constituencies in consideration of their needs and their ways of working.
Things to think about
Is there a shared definition of research uptake across your university?
In what ways are your university’s research traditions already shaped by research uptake principles?
How do we distinguish between research uptake and more tradition forms of research communication, university extension and public outreach?
Things to do
Share a common definition of research uptake amongst academic peers and across research management, public relations, ICT, library and information management and human resources management staff
Initiate discussion with colleagues as to the potential benefits and good examples of research uptake already happening at your university
What is Research Uptake? DRUSSA Team
A brief explanation of the concept of research uptake as a process in which stakeholders are engaged with a project from the beginning.
DRUSSA Platform2013 DRUSSA Team
This accessible and comprehensive document summaries key examples of development research taking place across each DRUSSA university, for utilisation and uptake by policy makers. This is part of the DRUSSA Learning Resource.
This guideline explains the core principles of public engagement for researchers, setting out how to inspire and engage non-academic audiences with research findings. It establishes the benefits for the researcher to engage effectively, how to identify your audience and practical tips for how to get started.
This survey report presents findings from a 2015 survey on trends in public engagement practice across the UK, analysing change in public engagement practice over time and interesting dynamics between science, technology, maths and engineering and arts, humanities and social sciences in terms of how they engage research findings and with whom.