Change starts from within: how can we maximise research impact?

5 January 2017

Most of us are familiar with the saying “change starts from within”, usually meant in the context of changing one’s own actions or mindset to create positive changes, rather than trying to change external factors which may be beyond one’s control. Within the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) team, we believe the same rules apply and have been looking inward, working hard to strengthen capacity within all our teams, to create change on the inside in order to create the impact we desire externally.

Our aim is to generate high quality research and use the evidence to inform policy and programme decisions to enhance nutrition through agriculture. In order to maximise the impact that LANSA research has, there is a great focus on the uptake of the findings. 

Uptake is everyone’s business

As set out by the Department for International Development, research uptake includes all the activities that facilitate and contribute to the use of research evidence by policymakers, practitioners and other development actors (PDF). This may include developing the capacity of stakeholders to assess and use evidence, and working with knowledge brokers to communicate, engage and build demand for research. These activities are traditionally the role of communications or uptake teams, but who within a large research team would traditionally have the strongest networks within their field or an intimate knowledge of the policy landscape? You got it, the researchers themselves. 

LANSA has a dedicated uptake team who work closely with researchers and stakeholders through a variety of channels. This is not an original model, many programmes have a team who work on communications, however at LANSA we also wanted to ensure it’s not only the research uptake team who are working to improve impact, but that we capitalise on the uptake potential of the research teams (researchers, research managers, and other project staff) and ensure that everyone within the programme has a responsibility for maximising the uptake of the research and creating change.

What is the Research Uptake Self-Assessment Tool?

Before devising any capacity building activities, it is of course important to have a shared understanding of the strengths and experiences across a research programme team, so LANSA developed the Research Uptake Self-Assessment Tool as a means of sharing knowledge around research uptake and enabling research teams to assess their capacity in this area.

Overall, the tool is aimed at gauging the awareness and current capacity of research uptake amongst research teams working together on a multi-partner programme. It helps to identify areas of strength which can be built upon and capacity gaps, for which some actions are developed. The tool also helps to improve understanding of research uptake (what it is and why it is important) across the research team.

It covers four main areas, strategy, communications, policy and stakeholders and for many participants, it was the first time they had considered some of these areas as being integral to research uptake.

I ran the tool twice this summer, once for LANSA research staff based in the UK, and once for another large research programme consortium, Future Health Systems. Both sessions used the same overall structure (outlined in the facilitation guide) but were tailored to suit the group and this highlighted the flexibility of the tool.

Shifting attitudes and practice

The tool was well received by the research staff and there were some incredibly positive reflections and experiences, including:

“The activity highlighted to me that there are things that I could be doing (and some that I already am doing) that could contribute to the impact that our programme has on policy”

“I learned so much today. Things which are already happening within the programme and also things which I can do, which would take little effort but could have a large effect.”

Personally, I think one of the main benefits of the sessions are the discussions the tool promoted around areas of work and ideas for future activities. Each session cumulates with a set of actions to which each team member committed.

Within LANSA, this tool has been run in each focus country with the programme teams, and has challenged perceptions and expectations on the activities encompassed within research uptake, sparked discussion across and between teams and helped to develop a capacity strengthening strategy for uptake for all programme staff. 

Slowly but surely we are seeing a shift in attitudes and responsibilities around uptake across the teams and hopefully as we progress, this change from within will help us achieve the impact we strive to see.

The Research Uptake Self-Assessment Tool is available for use and is free to download. If you use it, do send us your thoughts and feedback.

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