Reflecting on guiding and coaching the participants in the annual Research Uptake Communication exercise have experienced, Louise McCann chats about how the RUC experience has always been about individuals acquiring and practicing skills in a real-world, team oriented work environment.
Why have we always taken a team approach to DRUSSA’s user-centred RUC exercises: the answer is very simple: a holistic RUC team approach is essential if on-point and sustainable Research Uptake Communications are to be produced by Universities.
Back to basics: Why is RUC important for DRUSSA Universities?
Research Uptake Communication (RUC) is a powerful tool for each DRUSSA University. RUC is used to raise awareness of evidence-based development research produced by each of the sub-Saharan African University’s in the DRUSSA programme. The end goal is that stakeholder-awareness and their use of research-evidence results prompt tangible improvements in the lives of people in the Sub-Sarahan Africa (SSA) region, and to the SSA environment. Important? Very. Easy? No.
Why RUC2013 (and 2014 and 2015) began with the end in mind.
DRUSSA’s WP4 co-ordinated the first RUC campaign in 2013, and has subsequently coached and guided each university’s RUC team in RUC2014 and RUC2015, with RUC2016 in the planning.
To give you some context - the WP4 team is essentially a Research Uptake Communication team. We have hands-on, practical insight into the daily skills and capacities needed to sustainably produce strategic Research Uptake Communications content. This includes both producing and supporting the production of DRUSSA.net blogs, DRUSSA e-newsletters, e-alerts, print and digital publications, presentations etc. etc. As the ultimate goal of the DRUSSA project is to leave a legacy of embedded and sustainable RUC capacity in the DRUSSA Universities we serve, WP4 tasked itself with conceptualizing user-centred RUC programmes that would, firstly, enable the strategic set up of RUC teams at each university, with a view to these operating beyond the life of the programme. Secondly, each RUC team at each University would work through both the strategic and practical processes of their own University-centric Research Uptake Communication Campaigns. This would be a guided process that provided foundation insight in the form of practical Tools and Tips reading material, and a structured content-production process with coaching support from WP4. Essentially, each university’s RUC team members would collaborate to plan, work together and complete some relevant and useful RUC content – namely website articles for the Research Uptake page of their University website. Having put theory and skills into practice, they would be better equipped to ultimately continue on their own.
An outline of what a University RUC team and campaign process looks like:
How it begins
Each RUC campaign has had a consistent shape and form. It starts in the hands of the DRUSSA Leaders and Champions. Why? Because they are well placed to make strategic decisions: they have access to the Vice-Chancellor and are key players in their University’s Research Uptake Management team.
The first key decision they were asked to make to kick off the RUC2015 campaign was to choose a piece of published peer-reviewed research that had recently come out of their University, was aligned with their University’s mission to work for the greater good of their communities and environment, and was newsworthy. This piece of academic writing would be ‘translated’ into a plain-language website article to be published on the Research Uptake page of their University’s website. This would obviously provide an opportunity to create broader awareness around the research and how it has or could make a difference by being put into use. [audience: university’s stakeholder audience]
Bringing the RUC team together
By choosing the research, the DRUSSA Leader and Champion also chose the Researcher that wrote the scholarly article to be part of their RUC team. The subsequent key decision the leader and champion were asked to make was to bring in their newly appointed Research Uptake Communicators to acquire and practice the Research Uptake Communication skills to produce and post a plain-language website article.
Next, the Leaders and Champions were asked to gather the RUC team to discuss the RUC objective they hoped to achieve, namely to produce a plain-language website article that had its foundations in the original research article, but would be shared in a plain-language version, in a popular media style and that would create strategic stakeholder awareness of research being put into use. While the RUC communicator(s) put in the blood, sweat and tears (supported by modular reading material, structured activity sheets as guidelines, a workshop, and a DRUSSA WP4 coach to help with the details) to apply these RUC skills, it was vital that the researcher actively collaborated and was satisfied with the end result. Leader and champion management, awareness and support of the collaborative process was essential for RUC2015 (and for any RUC exercise) not only to manage the relationship and process, but also to provide support and strategic insight where necessary.
The final draft of the website article was reviewed by the RUC team to ensure that it was ‘clear’ in terms of University policy and protocol, research accuracy and content quality. For RUC2015 I helped with the editing process, but for the Universities future independently run RUC exercises, the leader and champ would need to facilitate budget or internal resource access if an external editor or copy editor is needed to finesse the article to a publishable. Again for RUC2015, if arrangements needed to be made for a Research Uptake page to be created on the University website, or for the RU article to be posted, then a process to set up a discussion with the webmaster to action this request was often facilitated by the Leader and Champion.
Finding opportunities to use the website article as an opportunity to share relevant info with stakeholders
With the website article professionally published on the University’s website, opportunities arise to draw the attention of stakeholders to this RU resource. This is a topic for a conversation in itself, so this is merely a light touch on what is a key strategic area. First it’s important to identify who the stakeholders are and what could be achieved by drawing their attention to the website article. For example, if the stakeholder was a funder of the research the article describes this is a good time to send them an email with a link to the article, for their interest and use. Another stakeholder audience might be colleagues in the field, and again an email with a link can do the trick here. Perhaps the RUC team have desires to pitch for some community radio station coverage so as to share research with a community that can put it to use. The website article link (or print out) might be a good starting point to approach a community radio producer in a simple, accessible and relevant manner. I could go on, but in brief a RUC team approach is essential to discuss strategy and practical avenues to raise awareness about the article and the researcher’s endorsement is crucial. This approach can achieve results that are more than the sum of their parts.
Learning from experience
Having worked through a RUC publication process from start to finish the RUC team have at the very least integrated entry-level experience of the process, creating confidence in their capacity to do it again and to ideally the potential to establish permanent, sustainable RUC capacity.
RUC in the international context
Assembling Research Uptake Communication teams, and putting processes in place to focus, up-skill and manage RUC is a challenge Universities are facing internationally in the digital age. It’s a demanding but stimulating and ultimately rewarding process, knowing that putting out Research Uptake stories to public and stakeholder audiences in accessible and compelling ways is work that can make a difference.
Internationally Research Uptake Communication is an emerging field, and that there are many levels of training and many hours of practicing process and skills before anybody, or team, can be expected to reach a professional level. The RUC participators are all on their way already
Read the RUC2014/5 blog series here.