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Helping acedemics to put research into use

16 Nov 2016 - 12:45

What has Gina Ziervogel learned about research communications?

By Gina Ziervogel, Researcher - Southern Africa team, University of Cape Town

I have been involved in many research projects. Some of them have been really interesting and others less so.  Sometimes there are interesting findings that have been published in academic journals. But the ones that I have found most rewarding are those that have engaged with people on the ground, grappling with daily challenges, where our research projects have had an influence and sometimes an impact.  This is not a trivial thing to do.  Some projects have had good intentions but the required investment in time and relationships and the contributions that emerged did not shift things much.  

The research into use focus in ASSAR has highlighted the importance placed on trying to get academic research taken up in the broader community.  Working with an NGO like Oxfam, as part of an academic project, has therefore been a highlight for me.

The other strand that is central to helping to make research useful is ensuring that a wide range of people know what is being done as part of the research project. The focus that has been placed on communications in this project has supported this a lot. I have never been involved in a research project that has dedicated people working on communications.

Communication is a tricky business and often academics are left to their own devices in communicating their material. It is not always a bad thing, but it is often forgotten about or done badly.

If we really want research to be useful, we need to start by engaging people on the ground so we understand their priorities, using that to frame the research and then communicating what the research has found, so that it can be taken up.  Ideally the actors you want to influence would have been involved in designing some of the questions and being part of the research process.  

But either way, spending time and energy crafting the message to share is important. ASSAR’s communication and engagement has been a core part of its strategy - not an afterthought. These are the pieces that will help to ensure that the research we have done might be useful.