Research communication: case studies that explore innovation and challenges in effective communication of research

This session was well attended by delegates from many different countries and very diverse backgrounds. The session was chaired by Andrew Chetley, an Executive Director from Healthlink, UK. Two presentations were made. The first by Yu Ke, a researcher in the Policy Analysis Unit at the HSRC and the second by Gillies Kasongo from the PANOS Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf).

Gillies Kasongo PANOS Southern Africa

Gillies Kasongo PANOS Southern Africa

The session was an open discussion to discuss the case studies presented and to see if they fit into the 5 hypothesis presented by the IDS background paper, or to determine if we needed to come up with another hypothesis. Both presenters spoke about the importance of bearing in mind the end users / practitioners of the research, about what matters to them, the types of research to be developed and how it is communicated to various audiences. They also mentioned how the interactions between the different audiences occur.

Gilles discussed the engagement with researchers and working with communication media and how they can make more use of research. Yu Ke looked at the two legs of the research-policy-practice triangle in terms of policy and practice and how that engages with research.

Various issues were raised during the open discussion. And many questions were left unanswered. I am hoping that by the end of the week, I will be able to answer most of the questions raised.

One of the main issues raised was that the info intermediary has not yet been defined or placed into perspective. Many of the delegates felt confused about what is really meant by an information intermediary. The intermediary could be a researcher… an NGO at the receiving end of a researcher… it could be the government trying to push policy forward or a member of parliament who is trying to get a perspective across.

We realised that we need to come up with some sort of understanding about who we are talking about and what their role is.

  • Intermediaries are not neutral conduits.
  • Intermediaries should play a critical role in analysing what research is available.
  • Who are intermediaries feeding information to? only to policy makers, practitioners themselves, researchers?
  • Are intermediaries in between or they centrally located? What does it mean where others locate themselves in this?

From an academic perspective, the ones who produce research should not shy away from their role as research broker. Researchers should take part in the role of research broker.

It was also mentioned that people do not always talk from a basis of understanding. One must be weary of that fact that there is a lot of misinformation because anyone can take over a role of intermediary and say how they perceive things to be, which could lead to misrepresentation.

Research in itself is sometimes flawed because of political push and pulls. Research can be used as a commodity, a political instrument for doing ill. The political forces have decided what happens and that is very difficult to change. If you are a receiver of aids or funds it is difficult to be critical of that funder.

The need for action research was emphasised, i.e. evidence flowing from research to policy and from policy to practice. Action research should include a continuous flow of information.

Experience has shown that policy makers are informed by researchers to create the policy. It takes long for the research to also trickle down to practice. Researchers generate a lot of case studies – can we not use this to influence policy? We need to try and influence policy from the bottom up. Researchers need to generate evidence and then influence policy makers. We must also keep in mind that there is a difference between what is policy, and what is perceived to be policy and what is being sold to be policy.

There was an agreement for the need for fusing research and practitioners, but uncertainty about how to do this practically. There is currently a gap between researchers and end-users. There is a need for integrating them. Yu Ke mentioned that many teachers are taking part in post graduate qualifications where they receive training on how to do research. In an ideal world we will ask researchers to go spend time in the schools to get a concrete experience of being a teacher. The lecturers in teacher education do not know well enough what is happening in the class rooms. Lecturers themselves should go to schools to get real life experience.

What does pro poor mean? To be careful that the role of the intermediary is not used to prevent pro poor action to be taken place.

Research fatigue: The issue of research fatigue was raised. This is when so much research is conducted in specific communities that these communities eventually get sick of always being the subjects of studies but never benefiting from the research. It is very important for researchers to feed back to the communities about the research conducted and the outcomes of the research. They need to try to provide a benefit to the community being researched.

No clarity about ‘the power of in between’. What is this power? It needs to be more clearly defined.

Issues that relate to the hypothesis – from what perspectives are we looking at the hypothesis?

Cecilia Sani, HSRC

Presentations from:

  • Yu Ke, Researcher, Capacity Development Unit HSRC
  • Communicating research through the media: a collaboration between the RELAY Programme and the University of Swaziland Research Centre, Gillies Kasongo, PANOS Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), Zambia

Discussant and Chair: Geoff Barnard, Head of Information Dept IDS, UK

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