Tag Archives research impact

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Development researchers as advocates: eight tips for more engaged scholarship

Research impact has become a strategic priority for many research institutes around the world, with an increasing focus on “bridging the gap” between research and society and positioning research in a way that ensures the knowledge it produces can contribute to bringing about change. But do and should researchers make sure that their research contributes to these objectives? And how can they go about it? This article shares some key insights from a roundtable forming part of the recent EADI ISS #Solidarity2021 conference.

Development researchers often find themselves straddling two worlds: the academic sector on the one hand, and the development sector on the other. But is there a moral imperative for development researchers to bridge these two realms by acting as advocates in ‘the real world’? If so, how can they best share knowledge in ways that contribute to solidarity, peace, and social justice? During a roundtable at the EADI ISS #Solidarity2021 conference, a unique lineup of speakers shared their insights from a number of different perspectives. The session ‘Is there a moral imperative for development researchers to act as advocates?’ took place on 7 July 2021 and was moderated by Prof. Arjun Bedi (Deputy Rector Research Affairs at ISS).

Eight tips for more engaged scholarship

We briefly summarised the main points of the discussion – here are eight key takeaways:

  1. Engage early on

Development research can help NGOs, policy-makers and other actors gain a contextualised and multi-faceted understanding of the dynamics of development. If researchers want their work to better inform programs and policies, they should interact with non-academic actors early on and allow them to help shape design objectives, recommends Adriano Nuvunga (Executive Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Mozambique). This will generate interest in the research that can improve research uptake later. It can also help to move away from extractive research models to approaches grounded in dialogue with local actors in which researchers spend more time with communities and talking to others.

  1. Make it political

Research generally does not inform policy-making unless it’s politicised. If researchers want policy-makers to engage with and use their research, they need to be willing to make it political and engage in political debates, says Dirk-Jan Koch (Chief Science Officer at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Professor by Special Appointment International Trade & Development Cooperation at Radboud University). Researchers need to understand what is going on in the minds of policy-makers. Make time available to regularly use (social) media by writing blogs or op-eds on research relevant to policy-makers, and make sure to reach the right people. Despite the political sensitivity, Dirk-Jan for example wrote an op-ed about the unintended side-effects of development cooperation that focused on how Dutch aid given to Syrian rebels was passed on to Islamist militias in Syria.

  1. Take a stand & be purposely passionate and provocative

Researchers seek to be objective and neutral when conducting research, but could embrace a bit more boldness and engage in activism when it comes to sharing their research and advocating for change in policy and practice. Sometimes simply sharing information is not enough. Researchers should find ways to appeal to hearts and minds, for example through storytelling that makes known the societal relevance of the research. By being “purposely passionate and provocative”, research can get noticed by policy-makers and the general public more widely, notes Kristen Cheney (Associate Professor in Children and Youth Studies at ISS).

  1. Spread the message far and wide & together with others

Researchers are generally expected to continually search for and share something new through their research. As a result, they tend to publish in academic journals and elsewhere and quickly move on to the next project. Yet advocacy and transformative change requires the opposite – namely long-term engagement – as such change takes time. If you want your research to contribute to change, you likely need to repeat the message again and again and to different audiences. Find networks of like-minded people, as this can help reach a critical mass of people who support a particular cause and can create enough momentum to sway politicians to act.

  1. Beware of the politics of knowledge production

Development as we know it today is inextricably linked with European colonisation, leaving us with a system of dominant ways of knowing and the monopoly of ‘useful knowledge’ and ‘expertise’ by institutions in the ‘Global North’. Lata Narayanaswamy (Associate Professor in the Politics of Global Development, University of Leeds) warns that we must not presume that there is a tangible thing called knowledge that is by definition valuable to share and to acknowledge that there are implied power hierarchies in how knowledge is produced and shared.

Careful consideration must be given to the why, what, and how of knowledge sharing. For example, practically speaking, what does the hegemonic position of the English language and the widespread use of digital technology mean in terms of inclusion and exclusion? Not only should knowledge sharing be coupled to clear action objectives, we must also think about how to engage research participants as co-creators, co-curators, and co-producers of knowledge.

  1. Move beyond a single identity

Traditional siloed research approaches in which one person conducts research, another communicates about the knowledge produced, and yet another is expected to do something with it are outdated. Science-society collaboration can be strengthened if researchers start wearing different hats and assume multiple roles, for example by combining a position at a ministry and a university (as Dirk-Jan does), communicating about their research throughout the research process, or engaging in digital academic citizenship.

  1. Become a digital academic citizen

Digital academic citizenship expands on the traditional perspective outlined above and is a way to engage in modern-day advocacy, comments Tobias Denskus (Associate Professor in Development Studies at Malmo University). Examples can be found on Twitter – which serves as a connector of ideas, communities, and platforms – where researchers are actively seeking and making themselves heard in certain debates: Dan Hicks (Professor of Contemporary Archeology at Oxford) for instance is often seen in the cancel culture debate in the UK, while Laura Hammond (Professor of Development Studies at the University of London)  tweets about the impact of budget cuts on research and her relationship with partners in the Global South. Importantly, Twitter isn’t used by them only to advocate their own research or organisations – they also use it to shed light on challenges and constraints faced by researchers, and on who they are and how they work toward overcoming societal injustices.

  1. Collaborate for greater impact

Maximising the impact of research knowledge and insights requires a different, perhaps new modus operandi than many researchers are used to. Thinking of advocacy and impact as a linear process with inputs and outputs doesn’t align with the complex reality of today’s world and its ‘wicked’ problems. We need to acknowledge this complexity and not oversimplify or underestimate what is needed.

Researchers can, but don’t need to go it alone. Oftentimes, colleagues working on research communication, uptake, and impact are ready to brainstorm and co-develop fitting strategies and plans to make sure knowledge is heard and applied. Don’t think or work in silos. Seek to collaborate, both within your organisation and beyond.

Looking forward

Going back to where we started, one critical question remaining unanswered in this blog is whether there is a moral imperative for development researchers to act as advocates. That is, after all, what the roundtable was all about. The truth is, we don’t have the answer (yet). Panelists and attendants touched on it, exchanging insights on the sequencing of research and advocacy and, more fundamentally, the objectivity and neutrality of the social sciences altogether. It became clear that the roundtable would not provide enough time and space to answer this provocative question. To really do justice to this critical debate, further in-depth discussions need to take place. But rest assured, the EADI Working Group on Research Communication is working on this, so stay tuned for more information!

About the EADI Working Group on Research Communications

This working group – comprising primarily communication professionals and a few academics – focuses on research communication as a vital part of ensuring that research in development reaches and engages other societal actors such as policymakers and practitioners so that recommendations and findings can contribute to change.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Adinda Ceelen is Knowledge Broker & Research Communications Advisor at the International Institute of Social Studies, part of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is also co-convenor of the EADI Working Group on Research Communications.

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17th Development Dialogue| Communicating research differently: how a comic strip is bringing the everyday struggles of Somaliland’s Uffo to life

Researchers and non-researchers alike can learn much about and draw inspiration from the everyday struggles of ordinary people in difficult contexts. Yet such stories that we hear when working with communities engaged in the pursuit of social justice or emancipation often go untold or are overlooked. A comic strip about acts of civil resistance in Somaliland shows just how powerful such visual imagery can be in communicating lived experiences of struggles, writes Ebba Tellander.

Illustration: Pat Masioni, PositiveNegatives

In the early 1980s, the people of Hargeisa, Somaliland suffered greatly. The negligence of the Siad Barre regime and the 1977/78 war with Ethiopia meant that the city’s residents did not have adequate access to basic services such as electricity, sanitation, and health care. At the same time, political oppression dominated life in northwest Somalia. Despite the possible consequences of blatantly opposing the government, a group of young professionals, including teachers, engineers, and doctors, set out to change the state of things by volunteering to help the people of Somaliland. They started in 1981 by cleaning and refurbishing the Hargeisa Group Hospital – at their own expense and in their own time. They saw it both as a form of humanitarian assistance responding to the acute suffering of patients due to the lack of a properly functioning hospital, and as a way of resisting the oppressive policies of the regime. Through their humanitarian action they were illuminating the negligence of the government in the health sector, mobilising people in the community to take care of themselves when the government wouldn’t, and showing them that they could act independently from the government.

To create more awareness about the oppressive polices, two of the professionals also wrote a newsletter called ‘Uffo’, which means ‘the sweet-smelling wind before the rain’. The meaning seemed to have foreshadowed what happened next. When the professionals were arrested a few months later and faced the risk of execution, this became the spark that ignited and inspired others, especially secondary school students and women, to oppose the regime openly on the streets. Today, the protests that took place are remembered as the Dhagax Tuur, which means ‘stone throwing’, and are regarded as the beginning of the resistance movement that continued for years afterward and eventually led to downfall of the authoritarian regime.

Despite the Uffo story’s historical importance, it is not widely known; instead, narratives of crisis, conflict, and violence dominate reports on the situation in the Horn of Africa, where Somaliland lies. These narratives are perpetuated by journalists, NGO personnel, and researchers alike. Reports on the Somali region in particular are typically focused on themes such as piracy, terrorism, war, and state failure. One consequence of such a limited focus is that ordinary people are portrayed either as perpetrators or as passive victims. This gives a flawed picture that downplays essential parts of the human experience, including those that provide a glimmer of hope, such as the courage and creativity of those who struggle, as well as their care for others. For my doctoral research I therefore chose to focus on the case of Uffo to highlight the tales and self-awareness of those people who act collectively to counter violence and oppression. I found a story that should not go unheard. And so I sought a way to make sure that it would be heard.

To communicate this story to new and larger audiences, I have been part of a production team of producers, storytellers, artists, and researchers who over the past years have created a comic in five parts. The comic is available in both English and Somali (read it here). I am part of a larger research team at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) that is committed to exploring the power of visual storytelling in research through a collaboration with the organisation PositiveNegatives that produces educational comics to raise awareness about social and humanitarian issues across the globe.

Comics and animations are particularly suitable for communicating lived experiences and sensitive themes, including topics such as love, torture, and mental health. It is easier for a larger group of people to recognise themselves in animated characters when compared to other visual formats such as photographs and films. In addition, comics can easily be translated into many different languages and spread on social media. Thus, they can reach people who normally do not read academic texts or policy reports.

How did we create this comic strip?

These comics were created in a collaborative manner that allowed the professionals and other research participants to tell their stories. The production team met the Uffo professionals in Hargeisa to discuss the comic before it was developed into a first draft. They were then given the opportunity to provide feedback during several crucial steps in the production process. The Uffo professionals have been very enthusiastic about the project throughout the process.

The artwork was created by established Congolese artist Pat Masioni who was personally inspired by the story. His 1980s comic style was a perfect fit with the Uffo story. To stay true to the story, Pat Masioni used historical photographs and pictures that I had taken during my fieldwork to create the artwork.

The process of creating a comic based on research and in such a collaborative manner is time-consuming, but the whole team stayed committed to the importance of communicating this story in a nuanced way that resonated with the stories of the professionals.[1]

What’s the comic about?

The comic strip powerfully illustrates the role of agency in challenging circumstances. Those who read all five chapters will know how Uffo invented astonishing ways to survive and stay sane during their harsh prison sentences (note: Tolstoy’s fans will be pleasantly surprised). There are many such smaller parts of the story that capture the professionals’ care for each other as well as their capacity to create light in the dark, which is a common thread throughout the whole series. These stories can be transformative in themselves, as they have the power to inspire and show us what is possible in otherwise bleak situations.

When the comics were launched, Dr Tani from the Uffo group was interviewed by BBC Africa. Several of the Uffo professionals were later granted political asylum in countries such as the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and the US. I therefore wish for the comic to be read by people living in those countries, as it will give us a better understanding of the lives of fellow citizens with refugee backgrounds.

I also wish for the comics to be read by youth in Somaliland and by diaspora. While I was conducting the research in Somaliland, I got involved in the process of creating a 13-episode TV program about Uffo in Hargeisa in 2018 together with Star TV. I followed journalists to universities and other public spaces where they were asking people on the street whether they had heard of Uffo. Very few had. One contributing reason is the country’s cautious approach to bringing up painful memories from the past, which could contribute to division. However, the story of Uffo is not only a painful one, but also carries messages of hope and strength, which I noticed inspired the young women and men I worked with in Hargeisa, most of whom had not heard the Uffo story before.[2]

All in all, this exercise has shown that engaged researchers not only can contribute to social change through the findings and insights generated by their research, but also through the ripple effects of the research process itself and from the stories that are being illuminated. It’s up to researchers to find out how to do this and to actively seek to create waves through their research.

[1] The production of the comic was informed by rigorous research, including in-depth interviews with the Uffo professionals and people who participated in the protests, many of them women. As part of the research process, the interview data has been triangulated with archival data such as human rights reports, political poetry and the trial protocol from 1982.

[2] Thanks go to Nasra Daahir Raage, Shukri Sagal Ali, Yasmin Gedi, Abdifatah Omar, Wahiba Ismail, Mohamud Ismail, Nasra Sagal, Hadiya Sayid Ali and Hassan Sayid Ali Daoud for their excellent research assistance.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question

About the author:

Ebba Tellander is a doctoral researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo and International Institute of Social Studies within the TRANSFORM project. She researches people’s motivations and actions when initiating collective action and civil resistance in repressive settings, focusing on the case of Uffo. For her research, she also took part in the production of a 13-episode TV series about the Uffo.


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17th Development Dialogue | A call to end the ‘social distancing’ of the sciences – in the COVID-19 era and beyond

The chasm that separates the different scientific disciplines remains deep as ever despite the evident need to address pressing global problems through transdisciplinary collaboration. C. Sathyamala and Peter A.G. van Bergeijk in this article show how close and intensive cooperation across the artificial borders between the sciences can be made possible and argue for a methodology acknowledging that only a combination of qualitative and quantitative research can create the type of knowledge that’s required to move forward together.

Hans-Peter Gauster (unsplash)

We start with a proposition: that both social and natural sciences are good at boxing, but not as good at wrestling. They ‘box’ by telling themselves stories about where they and researchers in the respective fields ‘fit’ into the scaffolding erected around the supposedly chiasmic divide of natural and social sciences. We all seem to know what side of this divide we want to be on, and a lot of time is invested in delineation, often drawing distinctions without differences. For too long, specialisation and deeper knowledge, both applied and theoretical, have been seen as the royal road to academic success.

But there are limits to what any science can do on its own. We’ve seen this during the current pandemic. As in any context, COVID-19-related health problems cannot be tackled from a purely medical angle; the exploitative social and economic structures that make people sick must also be challenged. Indeed, the validity of medical solutions to a large extent depends on social and economic conditions of time and place. The pandemic does not provide a new insight – it simply makes it clearer.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that by boxing in the disciplines and keeping them apart, we fail in a monumental way to ‘wrestle’ with multi-faceted problems, like global pandemics. We avoid the intellectual battle inherent in engaging with what the other side thinks. To deal with COVID-19 or to understand what is happening, we need less boxing and more wrestling! A mono-disciplinary perspective, however sophisticated, cannot help us design and evaluate policy interventions, or grasp the wider meaning and significance of COVID-19 in specific contexts. A lot of time is now being invested in delineation with other strands and lines of thought based on high principles of epistemology and ontology. Our point is that that energy would be better spend on truly working together.

A physician and an economist…

We write from different sides of a supposedly chiasmic divide, a divide we each try to bridge and straddle in our own ways. C. Sathyamala is a public health physician with a Master’s degree in Epidemiology who opted to do her PhD in development studies at the ISS. In the process, she developed a strong interest in class and state power and in the history of the biopolitics of food and hunger. As a medical doctor concerned with action for social justice, the Bhopal gas leak disaster proved a crucial turning point in her life as corporate interests in collusion with the state effaced people’s lives. The COVID-19 pandemic created similar tendency, displacing the migrant working class across India and subjecting them to what Giorgio Agamben has called ‘bare life’.

As an agnostic Dutch economist, Peter van Bergeijk is the first academic in a family of South Holland-based bakers, carpenters, and farmers. As a policy maker at the OECD, he was frustrated by the impossibility to engage major developing countries in discussions on environment and health. This motivated his move to the ISS, where he is equally happy to employ a neo-Marxist or a ‘empiricist’ framework as a toolkit, depending on what analytical toolbox is most suitable for the problem at hand.

…together critically examining the COVID-19 pandemic

Each of us has written on COVID-19 – on the urgency of communicating our concerns – in the form of  books or a range of Working Papers. Writing from different social and professional positions, we now also write…together. A common interest around COVID-19 has bridged our science-social science divide.

Primarily, we agree that if at all a silver lining is to be found in the COVID-19 situation, it is that we can learn a great deal, especially with mixed disciplinary backgrounds, with science, social sciences, and the arts (we have also worked together artistically: you will find Sathya’s poetry and Peter’s lithography alongside at the exhibition Broken Links).

And we both agree that we will only truly understand pandemics and their consequences, and what to do about protecting human societies from their fallout once social scientists and natural scientists stop practicing social and intellectual distancing by boxing themselves into their own disciplines.

This is more urgent than often recognised: the next pandemic is a certainty, only its timing is uncertain.

The WHO hopes to forge solidarity and encourage the sharing of knowledge across disciplinary and global divides. The purpose is to generate greater consensus around COVID-19.

But while lip service is paid to medical opinion, it is powerful political and economic elites that continue to call the shots.  State interventions provide selective care in the matter of making live and letting die, and even in making die in the Foucauldian biopolitical sense. Academics find themselves struggling to keep up in real time with the pace of the pandemic, with its spread, recurrence, changing pattern, and often its gross mismanagement.

Huge as the problem is, we are pleased to have started our own dialogue, right here at the ISS, and based on our own published and ongoing research on the subject. How COVID-19 affects us now, and what kinds of ‘pandemic futures’ we face, are questions all of us can contribute to answering once we learn to wrestle across our disciplinary divides.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

C. Sathyamala is a public health physician and epidemiologist with a PhD in Development Studies. She is currently a postdoc academic researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies, Den Haag, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her areas of interest include food security and politics of food, political economy of health, medical ethics, reproductive rights, and environmental justice. She has been active in both the health and women’s movement in India for some decades. She has authored and co-authored books and published in journals, peer-reviewed and otherwise, and in newspapers on wide-ranging topics. 

Peter van Bergeijk is professor of international economics and macroeconomics at the ISS.

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Celebrating a year of blissful blogging: ISS Blog Bliss turns 1!

Bliss, the blog of the ISS on global development and social justice, turns one this week. Although the blog is still in its infancy, it is already showing great promise. The Bliss Editorial Board here reflects on the reasons why Bliss should be celebrated and outlines their wish list for the year to come.

Bliss, our blog about global development and social justice, celebrates its first birthday today. We don’t really have a frame of reference for thinking about whether we are doing a good job, and can thus only share why we have come to like the blog.

In the first 12 months of existence of our blog, 68 posts have been published. Two-thirds of these were written by staff and students of the ISS. The breadth of topics mirror the lively diversity in the institute, with topics ranging from economic diplomacy, humanitarian aid, women’s rights, epistemic diversity, deglobalisation, the Orphan Industrial Complex, populism, and much more.

We know our stats. We have had 13,000 visitors in the first year—more than 1,000 every month. Is this good or not? It pales in view of the intimidating numbers one has become used to for web-based platforms. But what do we compare the blog to? When we think of the average number of students in a classroom or participants in seminars, we are extremely happy and impressed if indeed 13,000 people have bothered to read at least one of our posts!

Making our research known

What inspired the blog is an urge to open the windows of our building and reach out about pressing issues that our research sheds light on. We defined our audience as people in policy, practice and the public at large. We are particularly pleased that we have had 1,000 visitors from India, and another thousand from South Africa and Kenya! We have actually had visitors from across the world due to the diversity of our articles.

ISS staff and students have also gotten to know each other’s work better through Bliss. We see each other every so often over lunch or in meetings, and we usually know the kind of project or topic colleagues work on, but rarely do we know the specifics of the research. It is really wonderful to get the occasional glimpse of what your neighbour at work has been up to and what insights she or he reached and wants the world to know about.

Pursuing social justice

One blog will not change the world, but it is wonderful that we can add our voices to the critical streams for positive change, global development and social justice that keep up and manage to trickle through all the often depressing layers of naïve, selfish, blinded, devious, scared, evil, commercial, unthinking, or fanatical messages that continue to condone inequality, violence and threats to our climate.

Our first year has brought some evidence that blogging can be fun and powerful. Dorothea Hilhorst, one of the Editorial Board members, wrote her first post for Bliss about a report on transactional sex in the DRC that she was quite proud of, but that had not gotten much traction in the two years after its completion. However, Bliss helped her to make known her work on transactional sex in the DRC. The topicality, the title, and the picture related to the blog article all added to the cocktail that made the post one of the most popular on Bliss. It importantly led to different follow-up requests for lectures, blogs and even an invitation to contribute to a special issue on sexual abuse in the aid sector. This just shows what impact Bliss can potentially make if it reaches the right audiences.

The year ahead

It would be tempting to present you here with links to our favourite posts, but there are too many, and each has its own merits. We invite everyone to identify their personal favourite and tell us in a comment. So, instead of listing our favourites, let us rather share with you our wish list for the year to come. Here are five things that we hope to see in the coming years:

  1. More series. We have had several series this year on deglobalisation, epistemic communities and humanitarian studies. Series have turned out to be an effective way of disseminating fresh messages while creating a continuing conversation about different faces and shades of an issue.
  2. More responses on topical issues and news related to our academic work. Many things happen in the world that our research directly speaks to, so our research can feed into ongoing debates. Just recently, for example, we had a wonderful post on the recent elections in Brazil.
  3. More frequent use of blogging to increase the societal relevance of academic work. ISS places a high premium on societal relevance. Although there are many meanings of and approaches to societal relevance (a blog article on the topic is to be published soon), blogging is definitely a wonderful way to go the extra mile and tell a wider audience about relevant findings from an academic publication.
  4. More discussion about issues that matter to academic work in a world where the nature and status of science and evidence is increasingly under discussion. Confusingly and interestingly, these discussions take place in different corners. They come from places that favour fake news and like to see science as just another opinion. But they also come from within the academe where we wonder how inequality and a lack of recognition of the value of diversity biases our work. There is lots of space for debate on our blog.
  5. More stories that give voice to people that may not easily be heard. To paraphrase comedian Hannah Gadsby: it is not laughter or anger that connects people and communities, but stories. Let Bliss be a place where connecting stories are being told!

The Bliss Editorial Board members are Sylvia Bergh, Dorothea Hilhorst, Linda Johnson, Rod Mena, Matthias Rieger and Christina Sathyamala.

How to make sure that research has a durable impact? Examples from DRC by Dorothea Hilhorst and Adriaan Ferf

About the authors:

IMG_4761_2Adriaan Ferf coordinated the DRC programme of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium. He has over 40 years of experience with policy studies and evaluations of development and humanitarian programmes in Africa and Asia.

TheaDorothea Hilhorst is professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

This post was originally published on the website of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and is reproduced here with permission.

The Institute of Social Studies means to produce knowledge with a societal impact. It has been long realised that researchers need to be pro-active to ensure that their findings find their way to people in policy and practice (called research uptake). The authors of this blog have participated for 6 years in a research consortium, the ODI-led Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, where they had a range of research projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The long-term nature of this work gave them a unique opportunity to think about possibilities for durable impact. So what have they learned about how to make research count for development?

A history of research uptake

In past decades, donors have often put a premium on research uptake. A clear research uptake plan tends to be a requirement for any research funding. The primary focus of such a plan is to highlight that both researchers and funding partners have a responsibility to ensure that research findings reach key audiences. In recent years, research uptake has evolved from mere dissemination and communication strategies built around bombarding policy-makers and development actors with messages in the hope that some would get through.

Familiar problems

But some of these traditional approaches to research uptake have shortcomings. They often solely target decision-makers (including donors). This assumes that policy shapes practice, and hence that influencing practice should start with policy. But it has long been recognised that practice is shaped by many factors outside of policy. Often, innovation starts in the field, and practice gradually influences policy over time. That means it is as important for research uptake to get communities of practice to engage with research.

A second problem with focussing mainly on decisionmakers is that they spend far less of their time than researchers imagine on ‘the technical’ and ‘the practical.’ The challenge of keeping big programmes running and hungry bureaucracies satisfied may draw decision-makers’ attention from research-based insights (even if they would rather be spending their time on reading research). Conversations and conferences that draw in the great and the good from the policy and decision-making worlds can cause temporary flashes of interest, but their impact tends to fade quickly.

IMG_3247A third problem with established approaches to research uptake is that they assume that those commissioning research mean it when they say that they want to base their programmes on evidence. Unfortunately, policy agents tend to cherry pick what they find useful in research, to then act only on pieces of evidence that speak to their frame of reference. Finding out that your leading governance or social development programme, which has taken years to design and implement, is actually challenged by emerging research evidence is a major headache. In the politicised pulls and pushes that inform the process of policy-making, the space for using evidence can be rather small indeed.

Not just messages—relationships

But this does not mean that we should abandon the research uptake. We now understand the ‘relational’ aspects of research uptake better. This means that messages need to be tailored to specific audience needs and packaged appropriately. But even then, to get research to have an impact on policy and practice means travelling on a long and difficult road.

Our work in DRC as part of the SLRC has as much as possible worked on reaching out to communities of policy and practice in a systematic way. Having the luxury of a six-year programme allowed us to pay attention to the relational aspects of research uptake and to invest in relations with representatives of policy and practice. This enabled us to tailor our communications to the specific needs of these audiences. Research into the networked governance of the health sector by Aembe Bwimana and into livelihood strategies by Gloria Nguya both fostered the type of relationships that allow the researchers to repeatedly meet key-stakeholders and spend time discussing the meaning of their findings for policy and practice.

In addition to the traditional approach of broad messaging to decision-makers, we should also broaden it and seek to complement the efforts to reach audiences with research findings with alternative forms of more lasting research uptake. Here are a number of examples from our work in DRC on how we have done this.

Durable Research Uptake by SLRC in DRC

  1. Strengthening the institutions that enhance evidence-based approaches

In the DRC, the SLRC programme includes a collaboration between a Netherlands-based university and the Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural in Bukavu. Joint production of evidence and research papers, and shared investment in research networks helped strengthen the institutional pillars of the ISDR. Through the SLRC, the collaboration resulted in an initiative to jointly set-up a Centre of Research and Expertise on Gender and Development (CREGED). The centre is hosted by ISDR and supported by different universities and NGOs in South Kivu, as well as by the Institute of Social Studies.DSC_0349.JPG

  1. Strengthen individual researchers through PhD trajectories

Because the SLRC is a long-term programme, we were able to offer a number of the researchers a PhD scholarship. These researchers advanced their academic skills through fieldwork in a programme that was also pro-development and pro-poor. We placed a premium on research uptake as well as academic excellence. Thus the SLRC has helped foster a generation of grounded, practice-oriented PhD holders who, we hope, will further advance the research principles that are at the core of the SLRC.

While finishing their theses, Aembe Bwimana and Gloria Nguya have both invested in building relations with development actors. Gloria has done an internship with UN-WIDER in Helsinki, and when Aembe was conducting research into performance-based financing he collaborated closely with the NGO Cordaid.

  1. Incorporate research findings in the curricula of higher education

When research findings reach higher education curricula, they can resound for years and inspire students that may well be future decision-makers in policy and practice. And years (rather than one-off research conferences) is what it takes to achieve durable impact. The DRC team is currently planning to develop a Master’s course on gender and development, partially grounded in the findings of our research.

This initiative has been taken on by ISDR, in collaboration with a national network of gender studies that is based in Kinshasa and CREGED is preparing to offer this course in the next academic year.


As the DRC struggles to make its way through another difficult time in its troubled history, we look forward to hearing further perspectives on how to translate knowledge into policy and practice and to the challenge of using our future research findings to see how we can further improve our research uptake.