4C. Raising awareness and promoting research uptake on campus
It is surprising how little structured communication there can be between university staff about research activity across the institution. There are many possible reasons for this.
Academics are generally too busy
The university leadership wrongly assume that what they know of a research project is general knowledge
Discussion about research is frowned upon in social gatherings such as lunch breaks
Staff do not read or do not have access to information about research work
There are few opportunities or places for academics to meet
Some academics fear their ideas will be stolen
Communication is inversely proportional to the distance between offices. The further apart that staff offices are located the lower the likelihood of communication taking place. This is simply because people see more of people in nearby offices than if they are widely separated.
Historically, academics taught students about their research findings, and the students took their knowledge out into the world. This is still possible today, provided academics discuss their research in their teaching courses.
Many other mechanisms are available today – internal newsletters, email, and seminars for all staff on research are just a few examples.
If necessary, the university may employ someone to search out research stories and publicise them to the university.
“Huye (District) has recorded a high number of TB cases compared to other districts of Rwanda. Our association in collaboration with the management of the school of medicine and health sciences, Huye District and its partners endeavors to eradicate tuberculosis in this district through our health promotion activities. We shall keep on informing them on how TB is contracted and how they can prevent its spread. In our outreach, we target to increase the people’s awareness on accessing health services every time they suspect TB symptoms on themselves or in their neighbors. Students in the school of medicine regularly engage in health promotion activities aimed at giving people information on some health diseases and ways to prevent them.” Richard Usabyineza College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda
One of the best ways to demonstrate research uptake is to showcase it in action within a research project. Gathering stories and sharing these across campus can demonstrate the benefits of including research uptake activities in increasing impact of research. This requires a degree of responsiveness from the academics themselves, which, with busy schedules and competing demands, cannot always be guaranteed. Three ways to improve engagement with your academics to gain more good stories of research in action include:
Make it easy for them: Let your researchers know that you are well-placed to package their story in a format that will have cross-disciplinary appeal and that will showcase their work effectively. The more you can do to support the process, the more likely researchers will try to help
Have these discussions early: As we say throughout this Guide, if researchers are building public engagement and research uptake methods in their research concept and plan for the beginning, the act of communicating for different audiences will be seen as part of the anticipated workload – not a last-minute and tangential request which many academics may not have the time to engage with
Give them examples: Showing academics not only how research stories have been told before (and how attractive and compelling these stories can be), but also some of the benefits that academics have derived from better internal publicity for their work, can help to normalise this kind of activity as well as demonstrating its value.
Besides working directly with researchers on their own projects and raising internal visibility of good stories as they emerge, the research office can also establish some platforms to both attract and support academics more regularly. In the DRUSSA programme, some university research offices initiated “faculty road shows,” whereby research management staff (especially those with research uptake responsibilities) would arrange meetings with Deans and Heads of Department each quarter to both showcase what the research office could do to bring their research to light, and to learn more about the types of interesting research being pursued and developed.
Things to think about
How good is communication at your university?
Do staff include information about current research work in their undergraduate courses?
How many types of media are there at the university, and how do you work with them?
How do people communicate? Through social media, by mobile, in the staff lounge, at the golf club? Can we use these for university purposes?
How do you get staff to check and respond to emails?
Things to do
In dialogue with Deans and Heads of Department across your university, set up a Research Uptake Faculty Roadshow – setting aside two days every three months for a series of hour-long meetings that help to reinforce the research uptake services you can provide, your ability to draw on and engage with other offices and units, and to learn more about the kind of research that academics are pursuing – and how these might be celebrated both within the university and outside of it.
Pamela Mbabazi, Mbarara University of Science and Technology
In this presentation to the DRUSSA All-University Symposium in Nairobi in 2013, Associate Professor Pamela Mbabazi outlines mechanisms and strategies in place at Mbarara University of Science and Technology to promote research uptake, identifies research priority areas and means of engagement with public and policy stakeholders, and sets out some key case studies of engaged university research.
The Conference Consensus document is the product of deliberations at the 2016 DRUSSA Benchmarking and Leadership Conference (25 – 27 April, Mauritius). It captures and distills the discussions, summaries, outputs and recommendations for action put forward by conference delegates, and can be read in dialogue with the 2016 Final Benchmarking Report.