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16 July 2019
Network News | Vol 1 No 3 | December 2012
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DRUSSA Network News is distributed quarterly and aims to build awareness of Research Uptake and Research Uptake Management (RUM).
In this edition of DRUSSA Network News:

Getting the frame right and looking beyond evidence-based policymaking 


by Linda Cilliers

Two central themes dominated a recent symposium held by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). The Poverty of Politics Research and Pro-Poor Policymaking symposium was held in November 2012 at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.
The first theme was that of "framing" key messages. This is a vital issue from DRUSSA`s perspective, since one of our aims is, in fact, to frame the Research Uptake discourse for our various audiences and to contribute to mainstreaming
this discourse more widely. DRUSSA works with Sub-Saharan universities to develop capacity, both at institutional and individual level, to carry out Research Uptake activities.


The importance of framing for practitioners in the field is to communicate the message in language that resonates with the readers` values and outlook, whether it is aimed at those influential in the policymaking arena or at community level. In a presentation on how she had used the framing technique in the United States, policy advocate and communicator Margy Waller used a number of examples on how terms and images used to introduce a topic can have a powerful effect on how people see and understand it. If framed effectively, key messages could even change deep-seated beliefs (and ultimately behaviour). Waller, previously a senior advisor in Bill Clinton`s administration, calls a frame a "central organising idea".


She said many communications efforts on social issues failed because a frame is not established to help people understand an old issue in a new way. Very often, communicators rely on heightening the emotional power of a message. An emotional appeal will not work if the basic framing is flawed. Over and above tapping into people`s emotions, the message should provide a new conceptual understanding of an issue, so that they can appreciate the big picture and the dynamics at work in a way they didn`t before.


The second big theme at the symposium was the discourse around evidence-based policymaking (EBP) that ensued from the presentation given by PLAAS Director Prof Andries du Toit on his much-discussed paper, "The politics of poverty research and pro-poor policy making: Learning from the practice of policy dialogue".


Over the past several years, pressure on the development community has increased to demonstrate the impacts of funded initiatives, as have international funders` expectations for policies to be rooted in scientific evidence. In the light of this current reality, Du Toit`s paper questions some of the assumptions underlying evidence-based policymaking, saying the extent to which policymaking can be based on evidence that is clear and certain is often overstated and that other factors such as politics, ideology and sociopolitical realities have to be taken into account in the process.


Linda Cilliers is the Online Media Specialist for DRUSSA

New insights garnered at West African short courses

by Thor Windham-Wright
Research managers, science communicators and uptake officers from a number of leading Ghanaian, Nigerian and Cameroonian universities learned and discussed many aspects of Research Uptake and Utilisation for Impact and Science Communication during the postgraduate short courses that took place at the University of Ghana in Accra from 19 to 22 November.
This West African leg of the DRUSSA short courses proved to be very relevant to my work as Research Uptake and Communications Coordinator (Africa) for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). IWMI is a nonprofit, scientific
research organisation focusing on the sustainable use of land and water resources in agriculture to benefit poor people in developing countries. The Institute works in partnership with developing countries, international and national research institutes, universities and other organisations to develop tools and technologies that contribute to poverty reduction as well as food and livelihood security.


Some lively discussion took place over the four days, as we exchanged experiences of what had worked for each of us, and considered what new efforts could be made in different contexts. In fact, the diversity of viewpoints and experiences of both successes and obstacles clearly reminded me why this field is so interesting. The courses were particularly useful in that they provided new insights into how to structure our thinking on these subjects, while making best use of this diversity of experience. Half-way through the week it suddenly occurred to me (and made me smile) how the two courses were themselves good examples of knowledge uptake and knowledge exchange activities.


I am always on the lookout for new insights into how the outcomes of IWMI research -- recommendations, new processes, better technologies and other knowledge -- can more successfully reach the people who could benefit from them most. The researchers I work with seek ever more effective ways to meet demands for knowledge on water-related issues coming from diverse actors and communities. They`re always keen to explore innovative ways to communicate what can, at times, be complex science, in simple, easy-to-grasp ways. The audiences are diverse, from national and regional decision makers to local farmers, and from journalists to agricultural extension officers. The key challenge is to do this in ways that not only foster interest, but inspire people to act on the new understanding generated by this knowledge.

Thinking through how best to bridge the gap between research and target audiences, and raising the profile of research outcomes with good potential for addressing development challenges can be complex. However, Prof Johann Mouton and his team managed to cut through the complexity, giving us clear, accessible and directly applicable tools and strategies to achieve Research Uptake and science communication goals in engaging ways.

So what are my next steps? Well, three things: First I`ll be integrating what I`ve learned into the ever-evolving Research Uptake and communications strategy for IWMI in Africa. Secondly, and equally importantly, I’ll be keeping in contact with those I met at the courses so that we can keep the network we`ve developed going. And thirdly, I`ll be encouraging the researchers I work with across the continent to look out for the next DRUSSA course!

Thor Windham-Wright is the Uptake and Communications Coordinator (Africa) for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)


Successful kick-off for DRUSSA science communication training across Africa

"Informative, visual, fun, relevant, interesting, engaging, stimulating and very thought provoking." These were some of the words used to describe the recent delivery of the DRUSSA science communication course. The course is Module 2 of the 2012 DRUSSA postgraduate short course offering.
Close to 100 researchers and research managers from universities across Africa took part in the science communication training. Three two-day courses were presented in Southern Africa (Stellenbosch), East Africa (Nairobi) and West Africa (Accra). Most of the delegates are members of the DRUSSA Community, but some came from other universities and research organisations in the regions where the courses were offered.

Course presenter Marina Joubert introduced participants to key definitions, models and trends in the field of science communication. She presented evidence of the increased global recognition of the responsibility of scientists to engage with various publics and how this is emerging as a key requirement for sustained research funding – especially funding destined for research for development.
The science communication group in Accra, Ghana

"Universities have to recognise science communication as a strategic tool that can benefit the organisation and individual researchers in many ways," Joubert says. "Science communication and public engagement should become an integral part of research projects from the start and the identification of beneficiaries, audiences and potential users should be an element of grant applications for research funding. If not, the communication component of Research Uptake remains an optional add-on activity in which only a handful of scientists participate, to the detriment of science, affected communities and society. It is therefore important for universities to have in place the necessary research communication support facilities that scientists can make use of."
Joubert went on to explain how universities should develop science communication policies and strategies with strong support from top management and expert research communication facilities in place for faculties, departments, research groups and individual researchers so that they will have the support they need to get their research findings notices and into use.

Read the full blog and what some delegates had to say

Five lessons from Nairobi


From a submission by Samuel Kiiru

I learned a lot on the East African science communication course in Nairobi, but the following five points stand out in particular:

1. Whereas universities in East Africa may not have come to terms with the new social contract of researching for the community, other organisations (not necessarily universities) have taken up the challenge and are filling the knowledge gap that universities have been slow to fill.
2. The course made me realise just how difficult it is to unpack scientific information in a way that the lay person can understand. This has to affect development.
3. It is entirely possible to translate scientific information for the public, but special skills are required.
4. I now appreciate the amount of suspicion with which journalists and scientists/researchers view one another.
5. The field of science communication to get research into use is not new. As universities, we have organisations in our own backyards  that have invested in science communication. It took the course to make us aware that they existed and appreciate the work they do.

DRUSSA is an idea whose time has come and is doing us proud with this trailblazing work!

Samuel Kiiru is a project assistant at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi

What does open access offer for Research Uptake?

by Jonathan Harle
I spent a week in November at two valuable conferences on a critical issue for researchers across the globe -- open access. The two events were BioMed Central`s Open Access Africa, held at the University of Cape Town, and the Berlin10 open access conference, held at the University of Stellenbosch.
A lot was packed into these five days. From publishing to measuring impact to open data, open access has huge implications across the higher education sector, and far more than can be discussed here. But there were some strong and important links to Research Uptake. I`ll pick up on a few of these here.

A number of DRUSSA participant universities were represented -- Nairobi, Ghana, Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology, Ibadan, Limpopo, the University of the Free State, National University of Science and Technology -- as were several other African universities. And the range of speakers and participants emphasised that this was an issue on many people`s agendas.

Discussions about Research Uptake tend to point towards it being an active process, where universities explicitly set out to identify and understand which of their stakeholders can benefit from their work, or how they could meet the research needs of particular communities, and then find ways to meet those needs. It is this active character that moves the discussion away from old-style dissemination and “trickle out” approach that Jeff Knezovich talks about in his post -- pushing out research in the hope and expectation that those who might have a use for it would find it and incorporate it into their work as necessary -- towards the more dynamic process that "uptake" sets out to capture. This is undoubtedly critical. If research is to have real impact, then universities and their staff need to be much more engaged in the processes by which this happens. But universities can`t hope to predict all the potential users and beneficiaries of their research. Even if they could, it`s unlikely they`d have the resources to engage with all of them. Uptake by its very nature requires a strategic and targeted approach to engaging with end users. 


But what if there were ways for universities to both actively engage with specific groups of users, but also letting a much wider group benefit as well?

Much research is published in the form of articles in scholarly journals (although, as Michelle Willmers visually demonstrates, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to accounting for African research outputs). Most journals require a subscription for articles to be accessed or read -- usually something that is arranged by a university library for the benefit of staff and students, but for those outside the academy (or in institutions that can’t afford the subscription rates), this means much valuable research is effectively locked away behind a closed door.

But publishing research in "open" mode -- in an open-access journal, or depositing a copy of the article in an institutional repository (for a comprehensive introduction to open access, see Peter Suber`s overview) -- means that this "lock" is removed. Any users, whomever and wherever they are, provided they have access to a decent Internet connection (and this, of course, can`t be taken for granted in Africa) can download and read the article. What`s more, if it`s published using the Creative Commons CC-BY licence (which is emerging as a preferred standard for OA publication), the user is also free to reuse it for own purposes, providing the original source is duly credited. However, researchers will have to be aware that their readership is potentially much wider than their customary academic audience and consider the importance of writing a non-traditional abstract that explains the key findings in accessible language.

Jonathan Harle is Programme Manager (Research Capacity) at the Association for Commonwealth Universities


African youngsters show the world how it`s done
Whatever became of the Malawian boy who became world famous after building a windmill using bicycle parts, scrap metal and bluegum poles? William Kamkwamba captured the world`s imagination in 2007 after a Blantyre newspaper carried a report on his innovation and it was picked up by magazines like The Wall Street Journal. His story was eventually told in the New York Times bestseller, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.

William Kamkwamba on the windmill
he built to generate electricity for his
family home
After dropping out of school because his parents couldn’t afford the fees, he started educating himself by reading books from the local library. After reading a book on electricity at the age of 15, he set about building the windmill in his hometown, Masitala. Since then, he has also built a solar-powered water pump that supplied the first drinking water in his village and two other windmills (the biggest being nearly 12 metres tall).
In 2007, William received a scholarship to attend the African Leadership Academy. Now 24, he is studying at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire in the USA, from where he will graduate with a major in environmental science and a minor in engineering in 2014.

The African Leadership Academy is a Pan-African school that offers specialised education to achievers between the ages of 15 and 18 from all over the continent. It was founded in 2004, but opened its doors in 2008 to an intake of 97 students, one of whom was William Kamkwamba. It offers the foundational Cambridge International Examination (CIE) curriculum, but complements this with a programme that comprises leadership, entrepreneurship and African studies. Students are selected on merit and students` ability to pay tuition does not influence admission.  

Other young Africans that recently made world headlines are the four girls from Nigeria whose urine-fuelled generator was showcased at the same forum that made Kamkwamba famous, the Maker Faire Africa, held in Lagos, Nigeria, this year. The generator invented by Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, all 14, and Bello Eniola, 15, produces six hours of electricity from just one litre of urine.

Read more stories of the successful uptake of research.



Wishing you a safe and celebratory end to 2012 and a top-of-the-world 2013!




Happy holidays!