This is the first in a four-part blog series on the challenges faced by practitioners of Research Uptake. The first blog looks at the concept of Research Uptake. Where did the term originate and how did it evolve?
Part II looks at the barriers that exist at systemic level, Part III deals with barriers at institutional level, and Part IV examines barriers faced by individuals. Please let us have your contribution to this discourse.
Research uptake as a field of study, and more importantly as a field of practice, has been evolving rapidly over the last several decades. But a variety of challenges face research uptake practitioners and those wanting to strengthen capacity to get research into use. These operate at three levels: systemic barriers, institutional barriers and individual barriers.
Research Uptake: Understanding the concept
Of course, the first challenge is probably that the concept is little understood. The term was specifically designed to obfuscate its purpose—ironic, given that the whole point was to help clarify and communicate research findings. This obfuscation was a result of a change of government in the UK, and a “communications” witch-hunt from the Conservative-led coalition, branding such activities as “wasteful Labour spending” in a time of austerity. But there was a problem—many UK institutions funded by the government were at the cutting edge of communicating research findings and ensuring that heavy investments in research paid dividends by actually getting used and not gathering e-dust on virtual library shelves. And so, there was a pivot in terminology, though it was designed to reflect an evolution in practice in the field predicated on the balance between supply and demand.
Original approaches to research uptake focused more on “research dissemination”. That is to say, it assumed a heavy supply of research/evidence/information/findings that needed to be pushed out from a research institute into the big wide world. Notions like “research diffusion” assumed that once pushed out, the research would trickle out into the wider environment and somehow find its way to the appropriate audiences. But it was widely recognised that a more active approach was required, and so “research dissemination” became “research communication”. This approach assumed a dynamic and negotiated balance between the supply and the demand of research, and promoted an iterative process of dialogue among key stakeholders to inform the selection of appropriate research questions and programme design as well as engagement throughout the research process so that research findings weren’t coming out of the blue.
Understanding target audiences better would also help “policy entrepreneurs” to better focus and package their research findings. “Research uptake”, on the other hand, is focused mainly on the demand side of the coin, working to stimulate an enabling environment among end users of research to commission and find appropriate information to support their own policy processes. This still assumes working closely with key stakeholders, but also probably assumes some sort of capacity strengthening for them to understand and demand high-quality research.
Ensuring people are on the same page is a big first challenge. And once we’re there, many barriers still remain.
Jeff Knezovich is the Policy Influence and Research Uptake Manager for the Future Health Systems Research Consortium based at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK.