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18 October 2018
Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake Part I: Overview Print
Friday, 31 May 2013 00:00
The work DRUSSA does with its 24 partner universities is groundbreaking. It focuses on building capacity for Research Uptake (RU) and its management (RUM) in two ways, firstly by finding ways to support capacity at organisational level at these universities, so that each university finds ways to arrange its structures and resources to accommodate and advance
RUM. Secondly, individual capacity is developed by offering professional training to individuals in the form of postgraduate short courses, as well as MPhil and PhD degrees through the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch. Pulling these two strands of work together is a strong digital support facility that includes the DRUSSA blog and the DRUSSA App, built for online and offline use on a wide variety of devices.

While it is important that individual actors be enabled to become proficient in the management of Research Uptake (RU), efforts to get research into use will not come to fruition unless the institutional environment is conducive to such activity. Although institutional capacity building may be the more difficult goal to achieve in the short term, it has the potential to produce more impactful and sustainable long-term results.

This article sets out key areas on which university leadership can focus to strengthen institutional capacity. It is part of a larger literature review that was undertaken, from January 2012 till May 2013, and it is a synthesis of findings from academic literature and DRUSSA`s work with the universities. The latter includes statements of good practice that were developed at a participatory benchmarking exercise last year, as well as observations made at 16 university workshops, most of which were made by the DRUSSA Monitoring and Evaluation team.

A very useful piece of work for university leadership to consider is the framework developed by *Ellen et al (2011) on identified key areas where capacity for knowledge utilisation at institutional and systems levels can be built. This framework was developed for the healthcare sector, but the structure has proved useful in the university context as well, as it could be elsewhere.

Five areas are identified for “linking research efforts with action”:
  • Climate for Research Uptake
  • Enabling push factors
  • Exchange mechanisms
  • Enabling pull factors
  • Monitoring & Evaluation
Although the approach set out below describes mechanisms for facilitating supply-push (from universities) and demand-pull efforts (from university stakeholders), the complex and non-linear nature of the Research Uptake Management (RUM) process is acknowledged by the inclusion of suggested exchange mechanisms.

Climate for Research Uptake

The university`s culture and strategic thrusts need to incorporate RU and support it at institutional level. Mechanisms may include:
  • Integration of the need to support RU activity in the mission and vision strategies
  • Integration of RU goals into research strategy and policies
  • Considerations of and plans for implementation of RUM
  • Awareness campaigns for RU
  • Culture change and encouragement of researcher engagement by means of incentives such as promotion and recruitment criteria, and capacity development.

Facilitating push factors

The university needs to facilitate the process of pushing knowledge into its external environment. This could be achieved by focusing on staffing for RUM and establishing an enabling environment for the RU process.
  • Staffing for RUM: Staffing is a big consideration: Sufficient capacity should exist within the university to manage and facilitate the RU cycle. It is also important to ensure that individual researchers` skills and capacity are developed so that they have a good grasp of the process of RU for knowledge to practice and policy.
  • Establishing an enabling environment: Appropriate procedures need to in place to push knowledge into the external environment by, inter alia:
  • Establishing procedures that will enable the university to know about and identify projects with potential;
  • Ensuring individual responsibilities as far as RU is concerned, as well as those of departments and units, are clearly understood;
  • Building awareness of and training researchers to consider RU an integral part of the research process -- for example, RU should be included in the budget during the planning phase, as should planning for dissemination and uptake.
  • Utilising the physical assets of the university -- the university should consider how it can improve interaction between itself, the community, private sector and government through the use of its facilities and equipment.
  • Utilising the central organisational resources of the university – aligning the management of research, publicity, extension work, health support services and commercialisation to optimise the universities` capacity to meet stakeholder needs.
Exchange mechanisms

Exchange efforts should be carefully strategised and implemented to make sure two-way communication channels are established and sustained between the university`s researchers and stakeholders. Mechanisms should be in place for the university to support external-facing activity in the following categories:
  • Knowledge sharing and diffusion through, inter alia, websites, social networking, the media, fairs, databases and the library;
  • Support for staff to engage with stakeholders and the community (and vice versa), by establishing effective points of access to the university;
  • Support for staff to access external enabling networks, development research funders, and other “neutral environments”, and informal contact.
Enabling pull factors

This refers to the stimulation of demand for knowledge products. The DRUSSA team has found that universities do not seem to have, at present, much control over creating such demand, which makes it difficult to explore activities in which they can engage. However, some fieldwork examples have surfaced of the work that Vice-Chancellors and other university leaders do to forge relationships with influential stakeholders, and of researchers stimulating demand for their research. Some researchers have managed to develop absorptive capacities for the uptake of research in their communities and governmental sectors, social as well as in the private sector.

Monitoring & Evaluation

Given the increased emphasis on accountability by donor organisations and governments, universities need to ensure that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacities are established. These include:
  • Support for research M&E capabilities;
  • Integration of research M&E into policies and annual reports;
  • Sharing of development research success stories to build momentum.

Building capacity for RU at institutional level entails developing mechanisms to push knowledge into the external environment and ensuring that sufficient access points, enabling mechanisms and facilitators are in place to engage with stakeholders. However, the key question remains, how can universities and government now develop instruments to stimulate a pull for the knowledge products developed in universities. Regional and national government can play a distinct role in exploring what can be done to stimulate a demand in both the public and private sectors to make better use of the resource potential that is available to them in the university sector.

Dr Sara Grobbelaar is a senior researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch

* Ellen, M., Lavis, J.N., Ouime, M., Grimshaw, J., Bedard, P. (2011). Determining research knowledge infrastructure for healthcare systems: a qualitative study. Implementation Science, Vol. 6


Diana Coates said on 2013-06-19 13:05:35:
Edith Wakida said on 2013-07-21 11:20:59:
This is very useful information especially for those whose daily work is research administration. In my course of work, I have been doing alot of research administration and management but nothing serious with research uptake perhaps because I had not interfaced directly with the concept.....After reading the above piece of information, Research Uptake is quite straight forward and can be promoted by the research managers. One of the ways I think is worth trying to promote research uptake is by encouraging the researchers to develop their research topics after interacting with the potential research participants/stakeholders and identifying their pertinent needs. I am almost certain this will produce useful research results which can easily be up-taken because of its usefulness.