2C. Key concepts, principles and emerging standards
Research uptake may be relatively straightforward to define in theory – as seen in earlier sections, it involves the process by which research is more closely engaged with end users, and is also the means by which this process is professionalised. But does that mean we necessarily know good practice in research uptake when we see it?
DRUSSA Good Practice Statements
In the earliest days of the DRUSSA programme in 2012, we convened senior leaders from across the programme’s 22 partner universities to establish some waymarkers and agree core principles behind what good research uptake would look like in practice. The summation of these discussions took form as DRUSSA’s “Good Practice Statements” – a basic constitution for research uptake management which would guide the programme’s activity and help us to measure progress against institutional objectives.
Important to note here is the focus on research uptake management. This is the dimension of the wider research uptake dialogue which concerns systemising and institutionalising approaches to getting research into use – thus, the Good Practice Statements are perhaps most relevant to research managers and senior leaders setting research strategy, though they will still be useful for academics, research communicators and external stakeholders to consult and consider as well.
The Good Practice Statements were aggregated into four main sections:
strategy and mission;
staffing for research uptake;
internal organisation and promotion of research uptake;
support for externally-facing activity.
One of the main trends threading through each of these sections was the need for institutional structure and clarity of roles. It was widely recognised that university staff require a comprehensive plan for how research uptake responsibilities should fall across different spheres of work, involving faculty heads, deans’ offices, research management offices, public relations units, human resource managers, libraries and more. Thus, understanding the strategic value of research uptake is step one – articulating this in actual policy, strategy and structural terms is step two.
Another good practice that cuts across different research uptake management themes is the need for support and professional training. Institutional structure and clarity is critical, but it also compels university staff working within this structure to be upskilled and (where possible) certified in research uptake methodologies. Whether concerning professional research management staff or academic staff, support and training is recognised as imperative to ensuring that the research uptake process is of the highest possible quality and is as time-efficient as it can be.
DRUSSA Consensus and Resolution of Actions (2016)
The original Good Practice Statements served to help frame workshops and training events across DRUSSA institutions as they mobilised plans to formalise research uptake systems. By the programme’s completion in 2016, we convened universities’ senior leaders at a Benchmarking and Leadership Conference to review five years of progress, and to distil some essential core lessons from the process of embedding these Good Practices into policy, strategy and structure.
We summarised this discussion in the DRUSSA Conference Consensus document, which provides more refined guidance for university leaders as well as for academics and professional staff. The document provides agreed priority actions pertaining to:
Goals (institutional medium- and long-term objectives for research uptake)
Tools (approaches to meeting medium- and long-term objectives)
Key recommendations for Vice Chancellors (the pivotal role of university leadership)
Key Good Practice Statements (high-priority recommendations supporting strategy, staff and research visibility)
For research managers and university leaders, some of the principles and standards agreed within the Consensus document include:
Universities should develop a balanced and translational approach to research (including basic, applied, industry-facing, community-facing and problem-solving research)
Universities should recognise and reward staff efforts towards the conduct of research uptake, as well as evaluating the impact of research
Universities should nurture stakeholder participatory research through formalised relationships to strengthen community outreach and gain the confidence and trust of non-academic partners
For academics and researchers, some of the principles included:
Research uptake should be an integral component of research practice, rather than a stand-alone or additional activity
Academic staff should be actively encouraged to include research uptake activity in their research proposals to external bodies, and potential users should be involved in project planning from an early stage
Universities should establish (and academics should contribute to) a publicly-accessible and active database of research activity and the research specialisations of academic staff
These are, of course, only illustrative examples of good practices, principles and waymarkers for university leaders, research uptake managers and academic staff. They have been, however, very useful in helping different constituencies within the university to focus and organise research uptake work in a coordinated and strategic way. Each university will do this differently, guided by different institutional research profiles, staffing dynamics, structures, community settings and national HE and research policy environments. In the next section, we will look at some of the tangible examples of how DRUSSA partner universities have applied research uptake principles and put them into action.
Things to think about
Where can academics currently go for advice, support or for training opportunities in research uptake at your university? Is this well-known and well-established?
University leaders, research managers and academics themselves all have some capacity and some responsibility to build up research uptake. How do responsibilities currently fall across your university? If you could, would you shift the balance of responsibility in any way?
Things to do
Taking the total of fifty statements in the DRUSSA Good Practice Statements document, imagine that you could include up to ten of these statements in your university’s formal Research Strategy. Which ten would you choose? Which of these principles do you feel is most pertinent and could be most effective in strengthening an institutional research uptake culture?
At the inaugural DRUSSA Conference in 2012, leaders and champions from across partner universities jointly authored a Statements of Good Practice document, outlining fifty key elements to strengthening universities’ capacity to bring research into greater use. These statements are divided into discrete sections including Strategy and Mission, Staffing for Research Uptake, Internal Organisation and Support for Externally-Facing Activity.
The Conference Consensus document is the product of deliberations at the 2016 DRUSSA. Benchmarking and Leadership Conference (25 – 27 April, Mauritius). It captures and distils the discussions, summaries, outputs and recommendations for action put forward by conference delegates, and can be read in dialogue with the DRUSSA Benchmarking Survey Report.
This tool was developed in order to assess the capacity of multiple research partners involved in the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) research consortium, and is designed for a group or workshop setting.