There are many points in the research uptake process to assess success and draw on good practice. For example, there are case studies relating to how researchers establish and maintain good working relationships with potential stakeholders even before a research project begins, so that these stakeholders are well placed to lend their insight at the earliest stages of research project design. There are other examples of effective “knowledge translation,” pertaining to how research findings can be repackaged and delivered to non-academic end users. That may be distinct from how universities structure and support high quality research uptake work and how this is embedded in policy. And, further still, there are case studies in evaluating research impact, and approaches to understanding what methodologies have been most successful in getting research applied in non-academic settings.
As this guide focuses on support for research managers and active academics in particular, the following examples of research uptake in action may be some of the most applicable and transferable.
Policy and Strategy
A number of DRUSSA universities have explicitly included research uptake provisions in their institutional research policies and strategy frameworks. For example, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (South Africa) has implemented a Research, Technology and Innovation Blueprint, underpinning its strategic focus towards bringing research evidence to bear in design of national development policy.
The University of Rwanda published its revised Strategy to Increase Quality Research Production in 2014, which establishes a framework for policies in research communication and research uptake. One implication of this has been the revision of academic staff performance contracts criteria to recognise research uptake activity among research staff. For example, in annual performance reviews, all research staff are required to submit evidence of research activity over the course of the past year, demonstrating that 50% of their time has been spent on research activities. In demonstrating this, researchers are now able to submit evidence of research uptake as part of this time, and can earn up to 25 points (of the required 50 points evincing research activity) for uptake activity specifically. In such reviews, research uptake activity is weighted as:
Public exhibition or “road show” communicating research findings (10 points)
Production of video documentaries for communities (10 points)
Evidence a research finding has been adopted by external stakeholders (10 points)
Influence on policy as demonstrated by membership of advisory panels (10 points)
Repurposing an academic paper into a popular language (5 points)
Knowledge translation in a local language (5 points)
Communicating published research in mainstream and social media (5 points)
Research commercialisation (5 points)
Also, at Makerere University (Uganda), a Research and Innovation Communication Strategy and Implementation Framework was established in 2015, which provides clear definitions of internal and external “research publics” and links explicitly to a wider Communication Strategy, including outlining where the responsibilities for research communication lie across the institution (including responsibilities from the Office of the Vice Chancellor right through to Principals, Heads of Units, the Directorate of Research and Graduate training, Public Relations Office and researchers themselves). This strategy document has also set out five clear institutional objectives regarding the communication and uptake of its research:
Objective 1: Raise awareness about the research and innovation outputs by the University community.
Objective 2: To identify the internal and external publics of the University that use its research and innovation outputs.
Objective 3: To create a system for generating and disseminating research and innovation outputs amongst the University’s key stakeholders.
Objective 4: To develop appropriate channels and formats through which research and innovation outputs can be easily disseminated and accessed.
Objective 5: To provide a framework for managing the communication function in disseminating the University’s research and innovation outputs.
Across the DRUSSA programme, our partners spearheaded a range of excellent examples of how to engage research with external stakeholders. For example, DRUSSA universities in four countries (Mauritius, Uganda, Ghana and Botswana) oversaw Higher Education Symposia, convening senior policymakers in ministries of government relating to higher education (including ministries of science and technology, education and industry) to model research uptake practice and seek to both communicate good examples of research impact, as well as establish consensus around the need for universities to be mandated and supported to drive research uptake as a core institutional mission.
“(As a result of DRUSSA engagement) The NUST research project titled ‘Textile Technologies and their Indigenous Applications to Rural Communities’ has been redesigned to highlight stakeholder and community engagement and social impacts. Messages in this project have been repackaged.” Heather Ndlovu Research Uptake Management Officer, NUST Zimbabwe
The University of Mauritius presented one case study in particular that exemplifies how engagement with a local community can not only mean research findings are better used, but improvement to the research process itself. The University’s “Hilly Food Production” establishes how research conducted on the Island of Rodrigues was both informed by local knowledge as well as repackaged and engaged with the local agricultural community to improve productivity and climate change adaptation. The presentation also sets out how the research project was planned, how research uptake was factored into the research team’s activity, who was responsible, and how target groups were identified and sustained as key research partners.
Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Uganda also oversaw an outstanding case study in the effective engagement of research findings through a rigorous stakeholder identification plan. In concert with Medicins Sans Frontieres, the Epicentre Uganda initiative serves as an important malaria research centre, providing a multidisciplinary platform for clinical research. In this example, the University has set out precisely how it has identified its various stakeholders, how they can contribute to the execution of the research and how they stand to benefit from research findings. The project also comprises a clear communications plan to support researchers in the translation of science into community languages.
Things to think about
What good examples of research uptake strategy, policy or process at your university would you be most keen to share with colleagues at another university?
How do research projects at your institution consider stakeholder engagement, science communication and community engagement? Are there ways the examples cited above might apply to research carried out at your university?
What types of structured incentives do you feel your university could develop to encourage high-quality, academic-led research uptake? How might the examples above be useful in your institutional context?
Things to do
Imagine that the University of Rwanda’s Research Strategy (2014), cited above under Policy and Strategy, was in place at your institution. As an academic looking to obtain formal institutional recognition of your research activity over the past year, you are keen to draw on your research uptake and engagement work as part of the evidence of your research activity. Using the University of Rwanda’s list of eligible criteria for research uptake scores, how would you look to amass 25 points via research uptake work to count towards your total research activity score? Which activities would you prioritise, and how would you demonstrate to your university that you had been successful in these activities?
Research Uptake and Fighting Malaria in Nigeria University of Calabar’ Research Uptake Communicators
This article highlights in plain language how research on malaria treatment informed government policy, but where the consequent changes in policy highlighted additional challenges.
Theogene Nyandwi, University of Rwanda and Sara Grobbelaar, CREST
Research utilisation and uptake practices at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda increased between 2004 and 2013, and this has had a significant impact on uptake.
The role of experiential learning during a DRUSSA Fellowship Programme Professor John Munene from Makerere University
The author worked with the Ugandan Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoESTS) to strengthen/enhance the use of research evidence to inform its policy formulation, implementation and evaluation mandate. He explains the role of experiential learning in building government capacity to use evidence.