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13 December 2017
Strategies for Effective Research Uptake Communication and Impact Print
Thursday, 11 February 2016 16:09

A working paper entitled “Impact and Communications Strategy: Supporting Projects to Achieve Impact”, based on previous briefs prepared for research projects jointly funded by UKaid and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) outlines an Impact and Communications Strategy and identifies some of the key best practices in terms of Research Communication as well as the kinds of support that a funder, or research institution, can provide to promote Research Uptake.

African universities are committed to contributing to better economic and social development in the African context. There are many examples from DRUSSA universities of research projects or programmes which have engaged with stakeholders and subsequently have informed practice at a local, national or regional level. Two examples can be found in the DRUSSA Handbook Series: Developing a stakeholder engagement and science communication plan: Two case studies. One is a study of research quantifying and uncovering the movement of sediments and agrochemicals found under various types of mulches in coastal, hilly, food production areas in Mauritius which has impacted favourably on the daily life of fisherfolk, and the other is a research project that established the risk of an increase in mortality rates when a common method of malaria diagnosis is used, and considers an alternative malaria test, in the Ugandan context. Both studies engaged stakeholders during the research process and the findings were taken up by the respective stakeholders and are examples of good Impact and Communications practice. The DRUSSA universities are putting in place the resources and drivers to embed Engagement and Communication strategies in the research projects being undertaken by their researchers.

 

The Growth Research Programme Impact and Communication Strategy

The Growth Research Programme (DGGRP) funds world class scientific research on inclusive economic growth and related issues in Low Income Countries (LICs) and ensure that it has impact on policy and practice. Its Impact and Communications Strategy outlines both best practice in terms of communicating research as well as the types of support that it provides to research projects that it funds.

"In order to have the most likelihood of achieving impact, projects should build research uptake strategies and an impact plan or pathway into the research project at the beginning and this should include a clear communications strategy that engages stakeholders throughout the life of the research project"

Communication Strategy based on a Theory of Change

In order to have the most likelihood of achieving impact, projects should build research uptake strategies and an impact plan or pathway into the research project at the beginning and this should include a clear communications strategy that engages stakeholders throughout the life of the research project (and beyond). But it’s also important to be flexible – there are windows of opportunity which may not have been identified originally (just as there will be strategies that are initially seen as key, but turn out not to be viable). Being on the lookout for windows of opportunity (for example a change in policy, or review of implementation tools) is important, as is a quick response to take advantage of them.

Implied in an impact plan, but not always made explicit is a theory of change. Having a coherent and well thought out (and regularly reviewed and updated) theory of change is essential in understanding what kinds of impact you wish to make and how you are most likely to achieve it. Isabel Vogel, in a review report for DFID defined ‘Theory of change’ as “an outcomes-based approach which applies critical thinking to the design, implementation and evaluation of initiatives and programmes intended to support change in their contexts”. Key is the idea that “context, actors and a sequence of logically-linked events lead to long-term change”.

"Knowledge brokers can help to disseminate research by informing and/or translating research into a format which allows them to make sense of and use research results. Knowledge brokers can also actively participate in decision making processes, such as being on technical advisory committees or involved in multi-stakeholder workshops"

Communication Good Practice Principles

The Strategy sets out principles of effective research communication which includes “being there” (you can read more about this, written by Nick Scott on the ODI website here)  which is “an attempt to bring a more strategic vision to digital distribution of communications outputs by explicitly linking efforts to be heard and found. Content and links are placed on sites that are visited by key audiences, rather than expecting these audiences to come to an organisational site” (Scott 2012).

Another principle is “reusing the wheel”, collaborating with existing networks and organisations, “reusing” rather than re-inventing content. This includes “using content being made freely available by others” (Scott 2012).

It’s also important to look at how to communicate research beyond the publishing of academic articles which are of course a key indicator or research quality or excellence. There are numerous ways of communicating research throughout the research process and indeed after it has ended (for example posting on Wikipedia or releasing publications under a “creative commons” licence).

Knowledge brokers can help to disseminate research by informing and/or translating research into a format which allows them to make sense of and use research results. Knowledge brokers can also actively participate in decision making processes, such as being on technical advisory committees or involved in multi-stakeholder workshops.

 

Impact

The Strategy identifies four different types of impact, while acknowledging that they are not discrete categories, but rather characteristics:

  1. Conceptual Impacts – contributing to the knowledge base and understanding of an issue
  2. Instrumental Impacts – changes in policy or policy instruments
  3. Capacity building impacts -  raising the capacity of researchers to conduct similar research in the future, though, for example developing new methods or gaining experience in writing proposals
  4. Enduring connectivity – bringing networks of researchers and organisations together to achieve longer term, “broad-based” impact

Achieving impact requires understanding the context in which the research has relevance. This means identifying who the key stakeholders are and understanding how they might be able to contribute to the research process and ultimately to achieving impact. Stakeholders can come from a range of sectors – from government, civil society, local community or multilateral organisations.

 

Supporting Impact

The DEGRP’s support for its grantees is similar to the types of support development research projects at sub-Saharan universities should ideally receive.  It focuses on sharing good practice, peer learning and workshops and training events on policy engagement and communications to maximise the uptake of research evidence. Identifying physical and digital platforms, where research evidence can be showcased, and supporting continuing engagement between researchers and the users of research is important, as is supporting dissemination of research in suitable ways and formats.

 

Further resources

The Strategy builds on two other Dfid and ESRC resources – the ESRC’s impact toolkit and the Dfid’s guidance on Research Uptake. It is based on the ODI’s Communications Research Strategy which can be found here.


Alison Bullen is the DRUSSA website Content Manager

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