The value of knowledge is amplified through engagement. If not engaged with and taken up by others – including but not limited to other academics – research risks losing its intrinsic purpose.
And so the question for us is, how can research be best designed, executed and communicated to reach its fullest possible potential for engagement, uptake and impact?
The research uptake agenda matters because it seeks to equip academics with the skills to design and communicate research for utilisation while also supporting the establishment of professionalised, institutional systems and strategies, so that universities recognise and encourage good practice in getting research into use.
One common misconception is that the research uptake agenda only pertains to certain disciplines – including STEM subjects, the “applied sciences” or other explicitly policy-relevant research areas. We must remember that all research has a potential audience, both within and outside of academia, whether it is generated in departments of the arts, humanities or social sciences or in engineering, health or agriculture.
As such, research uptake doesn’t distinguish between disciplines according to any presumption of inherent social relevance. Rather, it seeks to establish the most effective means to engaging research with appropriate audiences for the best potential application and utilisation. While the means and audiences may be different across research areas, across project types and across local, regional and national contexts, the shared objective of research uptake is to heighten the impact of research to improve people’s lives. And research in every discipline has the potential to improve more lives in more communities than we might have traditionally assumed.
“We must stress Research Uptake as a way to improve how we would like the University of Buea to be looked upon by its stakeholders, to improve the quality of research themes in order to address the structural difficulties of an evolving population, and to adapt solutions taken from elsewhere and invent solutions answerable to the specific challenges of our own populations.” Vice-Chancellor Professor Nalova Lyonga, University of Buea
For this reason, donors and research funders are increasingly calling for research programmes to think actively about how they are going to communicate their research, engage with key stakeholders and support its uptake into policy and practice. The UK’s Department for International Development, for example, stipulates that all research they support needs to respond to clearly identified stakeholders’ needs. Research funders increasingly require impact assessments to be carried out, and expect clear evidence of the implementation of research findings. Reports and academic papers are no longer considered sufficient.
Like private donors, public research funding bodies also expect universities to demonstrate research impact. For example, in the UK, the UK Higher Education Funding Council allocates around £2 billion to support research at UK universities. This money is assigned based on an institution’s level of research quality which in 2014, for the first time, through the Research Excellence Framework (REF), included research impact as a category in its evaluations.
And finally, good research uptake processes are important not only to academics, universities, funders and government bodies, but for the end users of research evidence themselves – especially policymakers, who depend on robust evidence in the formulation of policy decisions. Without clearly communicated, socially-informed research evidence to hand, policymakers are at a disadvantage in recommending efficient, relevant and sustainable development policy. As such, building strong and sustained channels of engagement between research producers and research users is a key component of the research uptake agenda.
Things to think about
How does our university already demonstrate to funders and government how we are engaging the public with research findings? What can we build on?
Where are the external stakeholders we already have, and who else do we think should be listening?
Within which disciplines does research uptake already seem well-understood – and how can we share and expand this understanding across disciplines?
Things to do
Imagining you were a research funder, discuss with colleagues the kind of research impact evidence that would leave you satisfied that the work you’re funding is making a lasting difference. Using your own research area as a possible focal point, what do you think funders would need to see to be assured that research findings are being communicated effectively with potential users, and that they are applying some of the findings and deriving some tangible benefits?
This third and final Benchmarking Survey was disseminated to key leaders at all DRUSSA universities to help establish the state of play in research uptke management. Responses to this template survey were distilled in the DRUSSA Benchmarking Report (2016).
Dr Sara S Grobbelaar, Senior Researcher, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), University of Stellenbosch
This publication for the DRUSSA Handbook Series outlines tools and tips for researchers and research uptake professionals as to how to create effective online content, short articles, and how to draft an “Action Sheet” to plan your online publications schedule, who to reach with your research findings and how to assess impact.
Successfully pitching a story to a science editor requires a wide range of skills, from researching their outlet to communicating with them in a professional way. In this practical guide, SciDev.net have compiled advice from six different science editors with extensive experience in commissioning pieces for a number of different outlets including Science, BBC Focus Magazine, New Scientist, the Mail and Guardian and SciDev.net.
This dynamic guideline provides examples and approaches to communicating research through engaging stories and effective knowledge translation for public and non-academic audiences. It outlines how good storytelling can effectively persuade and have impact on different types of potential research user.