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18 October 2017
Network News | Vol 2 No 2 | October 2013
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DRUSSA Network News is distributed quarterly and aims to build awareness of Research Uptake and Research Uptake Management (RUM). You are welcome to forward this to your colleagues. Please suggest that they register as members of the DRUSSA Network.

In this edition of DRUSSA Network News:

1. Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake Part III: Enabling push factors through engagement
2. Mama Scientist`s dancing daughter
3. DRUSSA featured at international conference
4. DRUSSA case studies as exemplars of Research Uptake
5. RUMeL: What is in it for you?
 
This edition of DRUSSA Network News features the third in our blog series on building capacity for Research Uptake at universities. Following a review of the literature, Dr Sara Grobbelaar has identified five areas on which universities can focus to get research into action. Then Mama Scientist`s dancing daughter follows as a little admonition for scientists, who sometimes have a tendency to hang on to research findings for longer than may be strictly necessary, instead of releasing it into the world where findings may have impact. We bring you news of an international conference in which DRUSSA has taken part, and highlight some case studies that have been selected to serve as exemplars of Research Uptake at four African universities. And finally, we explain the benefits of the DRUSSA Research Uptake Management eLibrary (RUMeL).
 

Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake Part III: Enabling push factors through engagement


by Dr Sara Grobbelaar
 
In the first part of my series, "Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake", I identified five areas for "linking research efforts with action". These were:
  • Creating a climate for Research Uptake
  • Enabling push factors
  • Exchange mechanisms
  • Enabling pull factors
  • Evaluation efforts
In the second part, published on the DRUSSA blogsite, we discussed how universities could create a climate for increased participation for RU.

Here, in Part III, we focus on "Enabling push factors". We suggest that the university should set up the appropriate infrastructure and develop the capacity to ensure that research efforts and ideas are "pushed" into the external environment. This entails considering which mechanisms are required to ensure that universities are able to supply evidence in appropriate formats, to relevant actors.
 
... the university should set up the appropriate infrastructure and develop the capacity to ensure that research efforts and ideas are “pushed” into the external environment.

Pushing university knowledge requires knowing about and hand-picking projects with potential, and ensuring that staff are trained in the process of knowledge utilisation.

An important element within our DRUSSA programme support concerns universities engaging with stakeholders. The philosophy is that if a university is able to identify and build relationships with its external stakeholders effectively, this engagement will improve the quality and quantity of evidence, services and benefits to stakeholders.

DRUSSA partner, the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), is completing an in-depth literature review of stakeholder theory, which bolsters the case for successful stakeholder engagement being a vital element in ensuring higher impact of research results. The findings corroborate the view that when researchers engage with stakeholders, the following three benefits emerge:
  • The co-production of knowledge between researchers and stakeholders makes for mutual learning, with research results improving because of active input by stakeholders thanks to their local knowledge, insight and ideas.
  • Engaging with stakeholders during the research process increases the likelihood of research being legitimised, because stakeholder groups contributing to learning may attach greater weight to the findings because of their shared ownership of the findings.
  • Benefits can still follow even in instances where stakeholders are passive recipients of findings, provided appropriate dissemination mechanisms are put in place.
To ensure that these benefits are realised, both researchers and research support staff need to be trained.
 
To ensure that these benefits are realised, both researchers and research support staff need to be trained. Training includes:
  • Individual training to develop skills to effectively identify stakeholders, categorise them accurately, and identify their various roles.
  • Training to develop skills for appropriate approaches when engaging with stakeholders (information generation/sharing, consultation, collaboration or partnership) and choosing the depth of the engagement appropriately.
  • Training in employing appropriate participation methods (e.g. workshop, participatory assessment, survey, community mobilisation or service provision).
  • Training in administering and managing the university’s knowledge base so that RU becomes a permanent and core resource that is effectively utilised.

Mechanisms and resources should be made available to actively support collaborations, networks and partnerships; these are important in improving the quality and impact of universities` knowledge exchange activities. And effectively creating platforms for engagement and access points into the university will encourage outsiders to reach out to universities, while giving researchers the means to approach and engage with their most important stakeholder groups.

Also important is the extent to which a university exploits its physical and virtual assets for the good of its stakeholders. In many instances the university campus is one of the environments where high-quality spaces for engagement exist and where a wide range of activities can be held, e.g. physical events such as forums, conferences and exhibitions, and digital events and platforms, among many others.

We have entered an era where developing countries are asking more serious questions of how development support is provided and how stakeholder engagement will contribute to transforming unfair societies and empower the poor. Within this paradigm, university capacity for stakeholder engagement is a crucial part of driving knowledge to practice or knowledge to policy.
 
 

Mama Scientist`s dancing daughter
 
by Dr Nelius Boshoff
 
We scientists are like mothers--we cherish our findings and keep them close to our hearts, showing them off only to our scientific counterparts. However, findings "need to become" to be of greater value to society. For that reason, we sometimes need to let go of our findings--the same way Mama Scientist had to let go of her precious daughter, allowing her to drift into territory beyond her control... 

The year Mama Scientist became pregnant, the people around her fell ill with a terrible disease. Mama thought there was something special about her baby, that one day she would become even greater than Mama herself. Together they would work on a cure for the disease and return joy to the people.
Mama thought there was something special about her baby, that one day she would become even greater than Mama herself. Together they would work on a cure for the disease and return joy to the people.
When the baby was born, a healthy, bright-eyed girl with remarkably strong legs, Mama Scientist was overwhelmed. She called her Little Finding. Mama raised the baby in the lab, on her bench and close to her heart. On Little Finding`s fifth birthday, Mama Scientist gave her a first microscope. Together they adjusted the lenses and peered into the evasive heart of the disease. Under the bench Little Finding`s feet tapped a rhythm that rose above the familiar sound of the airconditioner in the lab. It unsettled Mama but she kept silent, thinking it was just a passing habit.

"Mama," said Little Finding on her 17th birthday. "I think I have the dancing fever. Please teach me how to dance."

"What do I know about dancing?" Mama replied. "I`m a scientist, not a performer. This bench is where I belong ... where you belong!"

Avoiding Mama`s wrath, Little Finding kept to herself for days. In turn, Mama observed that her child`s brilliant mind was becoming less occupied with analytical tools and computer scripts. It was around this time that Mama was asked to deliver a keynote speech at a nearby university. Returning to the lab a few hours earlier than expected, she discovered Little Finding stripped to her underwear, jumping around the room fiendishly to Shakira`s music.

"Have you gone mad?" Mama shouted. "Get dressed and back to your bench! Now! People are dying!" Little Finding stopped in her tracks, breathless. There was a sense of urgency in her voice. "Mama, I need to leave this lab. Every cell inside me was engineered to dance. Help me to become, Mama. Please, help me!"

"I`ll have none of this!" Mama exploded. "I`ve given you a life--this life!" Later that same day, after the dust had settled, Mama reached out to Little Finding, now sitting quietly at her computer. Mama gently massaged her daughter`s neck, hoping to rub some sense into her. "Please, dearest, stay true to your calling."

"But Mama, I don`t want to be anything else than the greatest dancer ever!"

Again Mama`s voice began to rise. "What exactly do you want me to do? Leave my lab and go knocking on doors, looking for a dancing school and hand you over to the first instructor like I`m some sort of pimp? Forget it! I`m a scientist, you hear, a scientist!"

The next morning Little Finding`s bench was as empty as when it had been before she was born, only a little note remaining:

I need to become.

For once Mama was at a loss for words. She immersed herself in her science by systematically integrating insights from every conceivable discipline. Over the years Mama Scientist would glean news from distant relatives: Little Finding had struggled at first on her own, but then met a young dance instructor from Arabia; they fell in love and got married; Little Finding followed him back to his people, leaving behind Africa and her Mama`s lab--for good.
There was Little Finding, swirling like a dervish in the desert to the sound of the most magical chants and wildest drums. People sitting around her were mesmerised.
Mama published many more articles in highly-cited journals. One day, while installing new antivirus software on her laptop, Mama accidentally came across a YouTube video. There it was. Unmistakable. Her daughter`s face. Eagerly she pressed play. There was Little Finding, swirling like a dervish in the desert to the sound of the most magical chants and wildest drums. People sitting around her were mesmerised.

Towards the end, the camera zoomed in on a wrinkled old man, the chief of the desert nomads. He mumbled a few sentences in an incomprehensible language. "This goddess," Mama followed the English subtitles, "her steps milked tears from the sky. Our souls were thirsty but now they`re fat with joy--all because of the tapping of her soles in the sand."

"Yes, yes, yes!" The community echoed.

Mama Scientist replayed the YouTube video and touched the image of her daughter performing a rain dance in the foreign desert. Filled with pride, she closed her eyes and sent her blessing to her daughter: Dance well, my Little Finding, and dance on. What a different kind of healer you have become!
 
 

DRUSSA featured at international conference

DRUSSA`s commitment to work with African universities to improve the accessibility, uptake and utilisation of locally contextualised research was wholeheartedly endorsed at a recent London conference. Some weeks ago, DRUSSA was invited to convene a workshop and round table discussion for delegates at a conference titled, `Africa`s Scientific Independence: How do we get there?`

The event was hosted by The Planet Earth Institute, a UK registered charity, and facilitated by former British High Commissioner to South Africa Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng.

Several organisations working in the field of science, education and technology in Africa participated, including the African Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, SciDev.Net, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Association of Commonwealth Universities,  to discuss ways to promote African development through building advanced scientific excellence and expertise.
Strong support was expressed for the imperative to build the skills sets needed to maximise Research Uptake potential across the continent.

DRUSSA representative Dr Tomas Harber led a lively discussion regarding the role of universities` Research Uptake Management capacity in realising this goal. Participants were enthused at the scope and current progress of the DRUSSA programme. Strong support was expressed for the imperative to build the               skills sets needed to maximise Research Uptake potential across the continent. Participants admired the innovative approaches adopted by some DRUSSA universities to incorporate Research Uptake Management into university structures and processes.

Delegates left the conference with a greater appreciation of DRUSSA as an innovative programme that has a significant role to play in positioning universities to play an effective role in influencing and raising the profile of science in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 

DRUSSA case studies as exemplars of Research Uptake

Four early-stage research projects have been selected by DRUSSA partner the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology at the University of Stellenbosch, to study Research Uptake.

The universities and projects are:
 
--Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), South Africa: Removal of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) from wastewater effluent by modified membrane technology.
--Mbarara University, Uganda: Rapid diagnostic tests for the accurate diagnosis of Malaria.
--University of Ibadan, Nigeria: Extension intervention on vegetable farmers` behavioural change towards organic farming in South Western Nigeria.
University of Mauritius, Mauritius: Quantification and movement of sediments and agrochemicals under various types of mulches in coastal, hilly food production systems in Mauritius.

Two team members from each project are gathering for a joint workshop in Stellenbosch this week. The workshop focus is on the development of Research Uptake strategies and plans that are suitable for each project`s aims and relevant to the stakeholders that they identify as potential beneficiaries and users of the research evidence.
 

RUMeL: What is in it for you?

A few months ago, we launched the Research Uptake Management eLibrary (RUMeL) as a part of DRUSSA`s online resources. We’ve built up the eLibrary to more than 100 documents. These include university policies and strategies, examples of good practice from major funders and NGOs, and other resources, all focusing on themes relating to Research Uptake and Research Uptake Management.

So, what is RUMeL for? It has two broad purposes--the first is as a resource that users in the DRUSSA Network can consult when looking for examples of how Research Uptake is managed at other universities across Africa and worldwide, and when looking for examples of some of the thinking around Research Uptake today. Universities around the world are building, revising and honing their approaches to Research Uptake and this always requires a strategic policy approach. We have brought together some useful examples of how this is being done, so that DRUSSA Networkers can appraise their own Research Uptake Management systems.

RUMeL`s second purpose is to provide a discussion place for RUM in policy and practice. If you have a question or an observation, you`re invited to comment on the RUMeL blogs, or even directly on a document in RUMeL itself--each Research Uptake document included in the database can be browsed and downloaded, and can be the source of new conversations. Your thoughts are always more than welcome and your insights valued!
 
Your thoughts are always more than welcome and your insights valued!

The eLibrary is meant to be more than a static resource; it is a place where those with an interest in Research Uptake and Research Uptake Management can gather to share ideas and lessons learned, and to contribute material. We will continue to add new content and hope to meet you there.
 
How do you use RUMeL? We`ve made accessing the content quite straightforward. You can select any one of eight categories and get a list of content categorised under that heading. The documents or resources are listed in the eLibrary, along with an abstract for each, as well as in the blogs written about each category. So, why not start up or join a conversation about any of the themes in the comments section of the various blogs. Take the blog, RUMeL Focus: Communication and Dissemination, for example. Once you`ve read it you may find yourself thinking about questions like, how does your university approach getting research evidence to potential users? Or what are other universities doing that you think might work well, or that might need tweaking in your own institution? What do you think about open access institutional repositories as a means of showing the public the scale of your university`s research? Are there models you think work especially well? Share your thoughts in the comments section below the blog, and get the conversation rolling. As always, your insights are welcomed and appreciated.
 
 
 
DRUSSA Network News is published quarterly. It is available on the DRUSSA blogsite, the DRUSSA App (register here to get the app) and via email when registered on the DRUSSA Network.
 
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