What exactly is research uptake? A lot has been said and written about the concept, much of it by academics, and still it confounds people, even those whose everyday work is tied up with it. Late last year, we featured a series of blogs written by Jeff Knezovich about obstacles to research uptake, the first of which sets out what is meant when we talk about research uptake, explaining also how the concept has evolved over the years. The name may be relatively new,
but the concept has deep roots in the knowledge intermediary field, having grown from earlier models of handling knowledge.
In a recent blog that interrogates what research uptake is and is not, and asks whether it can be measured, Enrique Mendizabal does a good job of deconstructing the concept at length. His first point is that “research uptake is not always ‘up’ ”. By this he means the sharing of information does not always follow an upward trajectory into the eagerly awaiting hands of policymakers. He suggests that other researchers are more likely to be the first to receive peer research. Thus, he goes on to explore the ideas of research “sidetake” and “downtake” (directed downwards, toward the public).
Somebody recently likened the notion of vertical uptake to the biological world, namely plants “taking up” nutrients from the soil. This metaphor immediately brings to mind a picture of the plant absorbing wholesome nutrients and thriving as a result. Of course, as a metaphor it is immediately problematic, because we know a receiver of information or knowledge does not necessarily absorb it, nor does it always (or even often) end up benefiting anyone.
Research uptake in the African context has problems of its own: organisational structures within many universities and other research institutions are not geared to easily allow the practice and management of research uptake, nor is it a field that has become sufficiently professionalised to allow individual researchers or institutional units to promote the uptake of their research. Structures need to be put in place at the very highest strategic level to make sure research is taken up, down, sideways. Similarly, individuals need to be upskilled to professionalise and mainstream the field on a practical level.
DRUSSA does not claim to have all or even most of the answers for African institutions. But we do have some. Nor do we parachute in to prescribe a set of activities to follow to ensure successful research uptake. Each institution has its own set of circumstances, strengths and constraints, after all. We should rather be seen as an expeditor of tools, information and knowledge around the field of research uptake for those universities who want to make it a priority to leverage research uptake—and its progeny, research uptake management (RUM)—to maximum advantage. Certainly, there’s no lack of enthusiasm for that on the continent.
Linda Cilliers is DRUSSA's Editor and Online Media Specialist