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23 August 2019
Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake Part III: Enabling push factors through engagement Print
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 00:00

In the first part of my series, “Building institutional capacity for Research Uptake”, I identified five areas for “linking research efforts with action”. These were:

  • Creating a climate for Research Uptake
  • Enabling push factors
  • Exchange mechanisms
  • Enabling pull factors
  • Evaluation efforts
In the second part, we discussed how universities could create a climate for increased participation for RU.
Here, in Part III, we focus on “Enabling push factors”. We suggest that the university should set up the appropriate infrastructure and develop the capacity to ensure that research efforts and ideas are “pushed” into the external environment. This entails considering which mechanisms are required to ensure that universities are able to supply evidence in appropriate formats, to relevant actors.
Pushing university knowledge requires knowing about and hand-picking projects with potential, and ensuring that staff are trained in the process of knowledge utilisation.
An important element within our DRUSSA programme support concerns universities engaging with stakeholders. Understanding what this actually means has been a major focus of the DRUSSA programme during our first round of campus implementation events at the 24 DRUSSA universities, where the team facilitated exercises through which each university had to identify the university’s relevant external stakeholders. The philosophy is that if a university is able to identify and build relationships with its external stakeholders effectively, this engagement will improve the quality and quantity of evidence, services and benefits to stakeholders.
DRUSSA partner, the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), is completing an in-depth literature review of stakeholder theory, which bolsters the case for successful stakeholder engagement being a vital element in ensuring higher impact of research results. The findings corroborate the view that when researchers engage with stakeholders, the following three benefits emerge:
  • The co-production of knowledge between researchers and stakeholders makes for mutual learning, with research results improving because of active input by stakeholders thanks to their local knowledge, insight and ideas.
  • Engaging with stakeholders during the research process increases the likelihood of research being legitimised, because stakeholder groups contributing to learning may attach greater weight to the findings because of their shared ownership of the findings.
  • Benefits can still follow even in instances where stakeholders are passive recipients of findings, provided appropriate dissemination mechanisms are put in place.
To ensure that these benefits are realised, both researchers and research support staff need to be trained. Training includes:
  • Individual training to develop skills to effectively identify stakeholders, categorise them accurately, and identify their various roles.
  • Training to develop skills for appropriate approaches when engaging with stakeholders (information generation/sharing, consultation, collaboration or partnership) and choosing the depth of the engagement appropriately.
  • Training in employing appropriate participation methods (e.g. workshop, participatory assessment, survey, community mobilisation or service provision).
  • Training in administering and managing the university’s knowledge base so that RU becomes a permanent and core resource that is effectively utilised.
Mechanisms and resources should be made available to actively support collaborations, networks and partnerships; these are important in improving the quality and impact of universities` knowledge exchange activities. And effectively creating platforms for engagement and access points into the university will encourage outsiders to reach out to universities, while giving researchers the means to approach and engage with their most important stakeholder groups.
A very important point, and one that keeps cropping up in our sessions with staff at the universities, is the ethical component of stakeholder engagement. The university needs to ensure that appropriate mechanisms and processes exist to make sure that projects with and engagements within communities at the very least are not harmful, but rather have positive benefits and spin-offs.
Also important is the extent to which a university exploits its physical and virtual assets for the good of its stakeholders. In many instances the university campus is one of the environments where high-quality spaces for engagement exist and where a wide range of activities can be held, e.g. physical events such as forums, conferences and exhibitions, and digital events and platforms, among many others.
We have entered an era where developing countries are asking more serious questions of how development support is provided and how stakeholder engagement will contribute to transforming unfair societies and empower the poor. Within this paradigm, university capacity for stakeholder engagement is a crucial part of driving knowledge to practice or knowledge to policy.
Dr Sara Grobbelaar is a senior researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch