Knowing your audience

Webinar summary: A cup of tea with Diana Coates

By 25 April 2017

On Thursday, 30 March R2A held the third webinar in the ‘Cup of Tea’ series, with an interview between Nyasha Musandu and Diana Coates.

If you missed the webinar you can view the webinar slides and the suggested further resources on Slideshare. Or you can watch the webinar recording on R2A’s Vimeo and Youtube channels (coming soon).

Below is a summary of the discussion and the questions covered, and we’ve published the results of the poll about how important individuals think building capacity for research uptake is to achieving their project goals.

Intro

Nyasha Musandu, Learning Coordinator for R2A, began by introducing Diana Coates, Managing Director of Organisation Systems Design. Nyasha gave an overview of capacity building for research uptake within institutions, particularly using the example of DRUSSA, a DFID-funded capacity-building programme that worked across 22 universities, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

First, Diana talked about how her career had evolved from into a role working on research uptake. She began as an organisational development consultant for African universities, building capacity within research officers, then worked with a group to establish the Southern African Research and Management Association. Diana then compiled research funding newsletters, and after that moved to the opposite end of the research funding cycle, co-leading the DRUSSA programme.

Uptake vs impact

Nyasha raised the distinction between research uptake and impact, asking if it should be an important consideration when building capacity for uptake or impact. Diana responded that research uptake is about the participants and managers of the research, with capacity building for uptake comprising a long and drawn out process throughout the life cycle of the project. Whereas research impact is distinctly measured by agreed indicators, but also by the perceptions of the users of the research, necessitating a different management process.

Top tips

Diana presented her top tips for ensuring that capacity is built for more effective research uptake, which centred around three themes:

  • Interventions must be multi-level (at the individual, organisational, and institutional level) and must look at the facilitating environment around the research.
  • Interventions should focus on meeting the expectations of the users of research, whether they are masters’ students, the funders of the research, or the wider users of the research. Research should be timely, relevant, and ethical.
  • Interventions should be mindful that audiences access information in different ways. Research uptake is about engagement and not merely presentation. Research uptake happens all the way through the research cycle, not just at the end of the project.

The challenges of capacity building

Nyasha asked about the challenges of building capacity at organisational and institutional levels. Diana responded that training individuals can be expensive and sometimes ineffective if they become demoralised or distracted, making the organisational and institutional levels an even more important focus. During DRUSSA capacity building was initiated at three levels: individuals were trained online and face-to-face at participating universities; organisational sponsorship was leveraged by sending chosen individuals to courses; and institutionally, links were forged between research communicators and projects that were compelled to do research uptake activities but lacked capacity.

When asked how the capacity-building landscape and research uptake agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa might change in 2017, Diana noted that research funding in the global development sphere generally is shifting in a major way, both in terms of perception and support. Diana noted that the shift is driven largely by the concept of seeking value from research outputs. In the African context, the criteria for funding applications are expected to become more stringent and the complexities of the project management required may become all-encompassing, meaning that smaller organisations and individuals might find it harder to successfully secure funding. Diana stressed the funder demand for results that are usable, thus making research uptake an integral part of research enterprise.

Diana expanded on a previous observation, stating that evidence for impact is normally only elicited from research users after a research project is completed, so research uptake needs to be embedded at the start of a project with integrated indicators that can help detect impact early on, before it is too late. Research uptake practitioners should be core members of the research project team, producing evidence throughout the life-cycle of the project to increase the likelihood of being able to demonstrate impact later.

Answering a sub-question about sharing lessons, Diana pointed to the mass of resources on the internet, but acknowledged that research uptake practitioners are very busy and are not always focused on improving their own practice. She noted that research uptake is understood in a number of different ways in different countries and contexts, with different terminologies used and without a coherent community connecting the groupings. Diana urged practitioners to stay up to date with happenings in the field.

Audience questions

In answer to an audience question about how the term research uptake compares to knowledge mobilisation, knowledge transfer, evidence-based practice and whether they are all synonyms, Diana described the research uptake ‘basket’ of terminology. Diana emphasised that transfer is not a particularly useful term because research uptake is a process-based approach involving engagement with and a focus on the users of research. The focus on engagement is helpful because it encourages both understanding of research users and establishing the relevance of the research to the users.

Another audience question related to the content and approach undertaken by the DRUSSA programme, which Diana answered by explaining the components of the programme: CREST at the University of Stellenbosch ran online science communications courses; the DRUSSA.net site offered a mass of mix-and-match capacity-building materials; and the constituent universities which developed short courses that individuals could complete in modules. The courses were deployed by different universities and developed to suit the needs of different universities.

Other questions

The questions raised by participants were varied in their scope and specificity. We will explore some of the questions in future webinars. If you have any ideas or experiences that might help to answer the questions raised then please leave a comment in the section below.

Q: Do you identify windows of opportunity for knowledge implementation by knowledge users (policymakers, businesses)?

Q: What types of relationship are out there that exert significant influence over how knowledge interacts (or not) with policy?

Poll results

Conclusion

Nyasha concluded the webinar, lamenting that like a good cup of tea, it is never long enough to get into the meat of the conversation. Nyasha closed the conversation by inviting and reminding attendees about next month’s webinar with INASP, exploring communications.

Register for next month’s webinar exploring communications and research uptake over a cup of tea with INASP on Thursday, 27 April at 14:00 BST.

Find more details and sign up on GoToWebinar.