By Maitreyi Koduganti Venkata, researcher at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS)
As we are stepping into the last and final phase of the ASSAR project, there are mixed feelings amidst all the partners. Four years is a long time in terms of building relations, gathering trust and of course working towards a common goal.
In this phase of the project, the Research-into-Use (RiU) component has gathered momentum. As researchers, who work and contribute to the ‘development’ sector, it becomes essential for us to consciously think about using the outputs of our research to facilitate tangible changes in the society.
Deciphering the transition of converting knowledge into practice
At the very onset of my joining the ASSAR project at IIHS, I was involved with the RiU component. My academic background is dominated by field engagement and community studies, which has been integral throughout the years of my studies. Hence, RiU was an easy and interesting entry for me.
In my understanding, RiU stands at an interface wherein we, as researchers, intend to shift our focus from generating conventional research outputs (such as academic publications) to translating the findings of research into real-world impact for the development of the society. I believe that research targeted at development is mandatory but not sufficient. Additional effort is required for putting the knowledge acquired and generated into use. It is in this space that the RiU processes work and fill the gaps. Hence, the ultimate purpose of RiU is to promote the uptake of research findings by stakeholders in the realm of policy and practice by ensuring access to, and facilitating opportunities to engage with, a new body of quality evidence. The goal is that actors in practice, policy and research will use a range of evidence-based, tested options to design, commission and implement adaptation initiatives to support communities’ livelihood in hotspot regions, in ways that benefit the most vulnerable.
Within the framework of this project, RiU is defined as a “long term process of inter-related activities that aim at ensuring that the outputs of research contribute towards policy, practice and an attitude change amidst masses”. The thinking around RiU has been integral since the inception of this project, through mapping and analysis of stakeholders and designing the research in such a way that it is driven by the needs of the stakeholders.
Figure 1: 5-Elements of RiU
Source: Adapted from THE CARIAA RiU Learning Pocket Guide (2017)
The RiU adda* of ASSAR
The transfer of knowledge from research to policy is iterative, emergent and unfolds with time. The RiU journey at IIHS confirms the complexity of this process of knowledge transfer and enhancement. Hence, to explore more on what folks at my organisation think about RiU, I decided to speak with the project team, who have been involved right from the start.
Initially my intention was to understand what each of us think about RiU, but then I decided to pen down my experience as these conversations opened the gates of another realm of discussions and ideas.
To start with, most of my conversations began by asking the team members what their understanding was of the RiU process. Snippets of their responses are as follows:
“... Being a practitioner for several years, I have been motivated towards understanding the value of research and its real world implication. Hence my understanding of RiU is deeply rooted since the start of this project…..”
“... My initial introduction to the project has been through RiU activities. For me, the concept of RiU has been very intriguing as I believe that academic research should not just remain with the academia, it needs to be showcased to a wider audience involving creativity and innovation....”
“... Coming from an academic background, RiU, is actually one of the most difficult aspects because it means wearing a dual hat of that of a researcher and of a practitioner. It also means saying something that is actually going to impact the lives of the most vulnerable…..”
At IIHS, the RiU activities have been designed to achieve two broad outcomes, viz. 1. Policy influence, and 2. Capacity and Awareness building. Research uptake and RiU can be strongly connected to the research process itself, using participatory or co-productive research methods within designing research, gathering evidence and analysing the same, which enables the uptake of research in its earliest stages. With this cognisance, we attempted to contemplate on what the project team thinks of our RiU strategies and their effectiveness.
Contemplating on these discussions I realised that there is no blueprint formula for putting research into use. The key lies in learning from previous experiences, especially in different disciplines and sectors which will provide guidance for effectively using research. Hence, there are challenges at every notch, while attempting to make a successful RiU strategy. A few excerpts on our team’s take in this regard.
Figure 2 Excerpts from conversations
With IIHS being an institution that works at the interface of research, practice and policy in India, the RiU journey has been somewhat easier to operationalise and enriching for us. We have successfully organised three national-level stakeholder engagements involving important stakeholders with power to influence policy, practice and discourse from our research findings. One learning and strategic decision in RiU has been embedding our research and findings into already existing channels of engagement and processes of the institution as we believe that it is much quicker and effective. A few snippets on what our teams take is on this front:
Epilogue – The way forward
The underlying strategy of RiU involves an "innovation systems approach" which emphasises the importance of networks, coalitions, and partnerships, and – by extension – the need for effective communication channels amid diverse organisations and individuals that make up the system. This process shifts away from the conventional research project model, wherein research is completed, and the results are then passed on to end users through conventional outputs like research papers and journal articles. In lieu, from the onset, the users and suppliers of knowledge interact in a fashion that ensures the emergence of innovation. Thus, the emphasis is on nurturing the demand for knowledge not just among the academia but also amidst a wider range of actors, which includes students, practitioners, policy makers, private companies and entrepreneurs, government policy bodies and non-government organisations (NGOs).
Thus, for making RiU successful, it requires all of us to come together and effectively contribute towards making our research findings more accessible to larger audience that encompasses art, aesthetics and of course, our findings.
* 'Adda' is an Indian term for a place where people gather for conversation.