Impact Practitioners

Research use in social sciences and three lessons for improving it

By 09/03/2023

This 29-page academic paper by four Australian scientists looks at research use from the perspective of academics working in social sciences. The authors study factors influencing research use and how they vary across different disciplines (education, economics, sociology, political science, and psychology). The paper also draws lessons that can help you improve the use of your research and better communicate your findings. 

The lessons are based on findings from over 600 surveys. Firstly, the paper argues that direct engagement with research users matters a great deal. It establishes a relationship between you and stakeholders, allows you to learn more about their needs and therefore tailor and share your work more effectively.

Secondly, passive engagement (e.g. relying only on the written distribution of your findings) does not bring much research use. Formatting, style, and delivery are crucial for the effective dissemination of your research. Your summaries should be readable, simple, jargon-free and show readers practical implications of your findings.

Lastly, be clear about your goals and carefully manage your expectations. For example, a close collaboration between academics and users will not guarantee improved uptake due to the various political, personal and organisational forces at play. 

impact practitioners quote "targeted forms of dissemination are needed to improve research absorption among non-academic audiences."

The paper also looks at various factors influencing research use. On the academics’ side, research use is affected by the role and position of the researcher, what outputs they provide, and their motivation to collaborate with external partners. Users are influenced by the perceived feasibility of adopting research evidence, their skills to interpret and apply research and the value they place on research. These factors influence the demand for academic studies within the policymakers’ context. 

In conclusion, this academic study demonstrates that there is a return on investment if you dedicate your time to networking with research users (such as policymakers and practitioners in your field) and engaging in research translation activities. In other words, focus on interacting with stakeholders, develop communication strategies targeting particular audience groups and tailor your outputs (policy briefs, workshops, etc) to the users’ needs.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

Get 'New Post' e-alerts and follow R2A

Contribute to R2A:
We welcome blogposts, news about jobs, events or funding, and recommendations for great resources about development communications and research uptake.