ASSAR reflects on the RiU learning event

14 May 2015 - 16:30

In April 2015, members of all four CARIAA consortia (ASSAR, DECCMA, Hi-AWARE and PRISE), together with CARIAA funders (IDRC and DFID) met to talk about a critical aspect of our work: making sure our research is useful and used. This topic, which we collectively refer to as Research-into-Use (RiU), covers everything from stakeholder engagement to knowledge dissemination and advocacy. During this workshop we learned more about the RiU strategies that each consortia follows, and gained a common understanding of the challenges that all the consortia are facing. Thereafter the ASSAR team gathered together for a day-long RiU workshop of our own.

Here, members of the ASSAR team describe their experience of these events, and share their thoughts about RiU.

Jesse DeMaria-Kinney (Cross-regional Team and ASSAR RiU Group Leader) The CARIAA RiU Learning Review was an excellent opportunity for the CARIAA consortia to come together and explore our collective inquisitiveness about how best to turn academic research into real change in policy and practice. The consortia had diverse approaches, objectives, available resources and, not least, research subjects. Yet each consortium was intent on ascertaining the best way forward to ensure high quality research findings are not only turned into top notch research publications but also contribute to social change. Of the numerous discussions and lessons, one clear message stuck with me. RiU does not depend on any one consortium partner or group of experts – internal or external – but rather, it should be seen as a new approach to undertaking research itself.

Lucia Scodanibbio (Project Manager): How will we ensure that ASSAR’s findings will be read, understood and will stimulate subsequent action? How will this large investment of funds have an impact in the real world? How will we avoid that our research results are not just another journal article, working paper or policy brief that sits on someone’s desk, or a remote corner of the world wide web? One of the aspects of the ASSAR project that has excited me from the beginning has been thinking about these issues and, more importantly, promoting these type of concerns among our research teams. Discussing these questions during three days in Nairobi with colleagues from the four CARIAA consortia and practitioners who attended the CBA9 conference; using a number of engaging and interactive techniques; and trying to brainstorm fun ways to raise the visibility of the programme and educate the public about the critical importance of climate change adaptation, gave me renewed energy in my role and reminded me of why I am involved in this project.
Chandni Singh (India Team): As researchers we are constantly reminded of the golden rule: 'publish or perish'. This dogged emphasis on measuring academic output through peer-reviewed publications, impact factors and citations alone is to me a tragic underestimation of the role that research (especially development research!) can play in solving real world problems. This is why ASSAR's focus on Research Into Use (RiU) excites me. At the recent 3-day learning workshop on RiU in Nairobi, I learnt how an RiU agenda values research not only for its academic excellence, but also for its ability to influence policy, bring about change in current practice and implementation, and help inform better decision-making at national or community scales. For me, the best part of the workshop was seeing myself fit in this larger role as an agent of change. That we used games from the Red Cross Climate Centre to facilitate the entire workshop was an added bonus!
Edmond Totin (West African Team): The RiU will help to engage relevant stakeholders for effective interaction to deal with societal/climate change challenges in a sustainable manner. By doing so (engaging key stakeholders in research activities), RiU can provide rooms to achieve impact at scale, and also to generate lessons to feed the interaction and reflection. The RiU can function as a concrete forum for the facilitation of innovation and be valuable as ‘think-tanks’ in influencing policy decision-making processes. From the discussions during the RiU sessions, I found how important it is to engage the private sector as well. The main challenge for us in West-Africa Region is how to manage to engage effectively this category of stakeholders who is a business driven force to guarantee the sustainability of the process, even after the termination of the ASSAR project.
Dian Spear (Southern African Team): Perhaps mistakenly I thought, or hoped we would learn more about how to do RiU and do more towards planning our RiU agendas. People involved full-time and responsible for implementing RiU didn’t get capacity built in terms of skills, and for me there wasn’t much new in terms of what RiU is or the skills that are required. People that haven’t been involved much in thinking about RiU might have learned a lot about what RiU is. I had wanted to leave feeling like I had a better idea of how to do RiU, not just what it is. I found the skills sharing session most useful on the Wednesday evening especially the experiential session with Bettina on building partnerships with communities. Bettina shared a useful philosophy on interactions between people where individuals can take the role of parent, adult or child and the importance of maintaining adult – adult interactions in communication and maintaining partnerships. The other very interesting experience sharing was from Fiona from the Adaptation Learning Programme. She spoke about the importance of getting a seat at the policy table, developing digital stories to show to policy makers, training on communication skills, and work with technical people the government ministry already trusts. She also told us about a very successful multi-stakeholder platform on seasonal forecasting bringing together meteorological services with communities. Something that was quite a new idea was secondments and staff exchanges. It was also noted that there is a lack of focus of our work on communities and that our research plans have perhaps not been stakeholder driven enough. We also haven’t yet linked enough with existing organisations. Personally I think there is a great opportunity to write up lessons learned in terms of researchers implementing RiU in different contexts and what works and doesn’t work. It is quite new for researchers to have to do this and will be useful to capture planning and process - what is done and what works and doesn’t. The highlight of the ASSAR workshop was Bettina’s games especially the cooperation game where we were supposed to cooperate with other teams, the game with the ball throwing and the exercise where we had to choose a card and explain the image from our place in ASSAR.
Amadou Sidibe (West African Team): The RiU takes place in a complex development context. Suffice to remember the Theory of Change, to see how daunting it may appear. I rather find that the complexity makes the RiU exciting. Exciting because striking the balance between the long-term engagement of stakeholders, striving to make impact and communicating valid research results offer a fertile ground for co-learning and co-production of knowledge.  I am optimistic that through our RiU we will contribute to the body of knowledge in our field of research. However one of the challenges we need to be aware of is the one of attribution of RiU impacts. How do we single out the impacts of our RiU among other ongoing development interventions in our different regions

Tali Hoffman (Project Management Unit): Many, if not most, of us in CARIAA do the work we do because we care immensely about people and the planet, and we want to make a positive difference to both. But how do we make sure that our efforts aren’t stuck in a vacuum, swirling around to the benefit of no-one and nothing? That was the focus of our discussions at the CARIAA Research-into-use learning event in Nairobi. During this event I was struck by how much we all have to learn when it comes to knowing how to really, truly, make our research impactful. But I was equally struck by the collective determination to work towards this goal, and the willingness to acquire the skills, networks and platforms that we need to make our work matter.
Julius Kamau (Cross-regional Team): It was interesting and at the same time challenging to appreciate the various inter-related/linked dimensions that influence the way in which research is put into use. In reference to ASSAR it will be important to unwrap the context within which the research-policy-practice interface is situated, the nature of research and knowledge that will be generated, the strategic stakeholders and networks that will be involved in putting research into use, and the appropriate communication strategies that will be needed to achieve this