Building a research impact culture

Community member post by Louise Shaxson

Louise Shaxson (biography)

What sort of research culture underpins effective research impact on policy and practice change?

As part of a research program on inclusive economic growth in low-income countries, we commissioned four case studies to help understand how researchers had engaged with policymakers and practitioners and what happened as a result. We were particularly interested to understand whether specific types of knowledge activity (simply providing the information, translating knowledge, brokering it within the policy environment, or facilitating innovative approaches to engagement) led to different types of impact.

We found no clear links between the type of knowledge activity and type of impact. Instead, five cross-cutting issues emerged that we think speak more to how getting the research culture right can foster different and sometimes unexpected types of impact.

1. Focus on collaboration, co-creation and an iterative approach.

Received wisdom says that you should plan for impact from the beginning of your research project. While we still think this is good practice, it doesn’t appear to matter if you start late as long as you think carefully about how you start. For example, a project on farmers’ attitudes towards risk in Uganda didn’t really begin to think about impact until after the research had ended. However, it then developed a highly collaborative, iterative approach to engagement, working with farmers, as well as local and national policymakers to co-create policy proposals that would work at all levels.

2. Emphasise local scholarship.

This is essential to building the credibility of research results. While this is a stated aim of most research projects, it was core to the work of a project to align health and industrial policies in Tanzania and Kenya. From the outset, the project’s overall approach was to help African researchers build their own reputations for highly competent, credible work. African policy stakeholders were particularly keen to hear about African issues from African scholars. Having a specific strategy to strengthen local relationships ensures that they will last long after the project has ended.

3. Networking is crucial.

The aim is not to push messages to a wide range of people but to understand where the relevant conversations are happening and how to engage with them. While standard advice is to develop an engagement plan and work through it, in a collaborative project between a UK university and a Ghanaian think tank, researchers studying the diffusion of innovation in low-income countries attended or spoke at a series of conferences to broaden their networks. They found that their connections snowballed after their first few conferences. This brought the Ghanaian think tank into the limelight, raising its profile both in Ghana and internationally. While the think tank researchers found that saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity to speak was exhausting, it paid huge dividends in terms of their ability to follow the breadth of the debates and thus the range of people reached by their messages and advice.

4. It’s all about the quality of the evidence.

Providing a credible database can be just as influential as providing tailored policy advice. One project researching structural transformation and growth in Africa simply plugged a data gap with evidence from Africa, completing a narrative about the sources of economic growth and re-evaluating earlier research findings. Yet this was highly influential. The story about economic transformation in Africa was already becoming clearer, but the project played a key role in building a detailed picture about how structural transformation happens, having an important influence on the shape and nature of the debate about how to foster economic growth in Africa.

5. Sometimes, more is more.

It can be particularly effective to use all four approaches to engagement, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequentially. In fact, in our four case studies it proved difficult to separate out which approaches they had used: iterating different types of engagement helped to strengthen local inputs and local scholarship… which improved the quality and relevance of the evidence… which helped build wider networks… which required different types of engagement… etc. While we still think it is important to have an idea who your target audience is and to develop outline plans, we believe there is also an argument for a ‘more is more’ approach.

What has your experience been with developing a research culture for impact? Do you have other examples to share where you have diverted from received wisdom about how the research-policy interaction should be handled?

This blog post is a modified version of “Building a culture of research impact” by Louise Shaxson published in LSE Impact Blog on January 17, 2019, which also provides links and references to the original research:

Biography: Louise Shaxson currently leads the RAPID (Research and Policy in Development) programme at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute, which focuses on strengthening the uptake and use of evidence in development organisations. She has over 25 years’ experience as a researcher, research manager, policy advisor and management consultant in the UK and developing countries. Her work focuses on evidence-informed policymaking in all its guises: helping people outside government trying to integrate evidence into public policy processes, and helping those inside government departments to improve how they use evidence to make decisions. She is particularly interested in how organisational systems and processes create different cultures of evidence—and how those cultures coincide and collide to influence decision making.

A manifesto of interdisciplinarity

Community member post by Rick Szostak

Rick Szostak (biography)

Is there a shared understanding of what interdisciplinarity is and how (and why) it is best pursued that can be used by the international community of scholars of interdisciplinarity, to both advocate for and encourage interdisciplinary scholarship? Is there consensus on what we are trying to achieve and how this is best done that can form the basis of cogent advice to interdisciplinary teachers and researchers regarding strategies that have proven successful in the past?

I propose a ‘Manifesto of Interdisciplinarity’ with nine brief points, as listed below. Continue reading

Strengthening the ecosystem for effective team science: A case study from University of California, Irvine, USA

Community member post by Dan Stokols, Judith S. Olson, Maritza Salazar and Gary M. Olson

Dan Stokols (biography)

How can an ecosystem approach help in understanding and improving team science? How can this work in practice?

An Ecosystem Approach

Collaborations among scholars from different fields and their community partners are embedded in a multi-layered ecosystem ranging from micro to macro scales, and from local to more remote regions. Ecosystem levels include: Continue reading

Building a global community to improve how complex real-world problems are tackled

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

This is the third annual “state of the blog” review.

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

As the blog moves into its 4th year, how well is it achieving its goals? Is it succeeding in sharing concepts and methods across the multiple groups addressing complex real-world problems – groups including inter- and trans- disciplinarians, systems thinkers, action researchers and implementation scientists, as well as the myriad researchers working on complex environmental, health and other societal problems, who do not necessarily identify with these networks? Is it providing a forum to connect these disparate groups and individuals? Is it helping to build an international research community to improve how complex real-world problems are tackled? Continue reading

Four strategies for improving knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers

Community member post by Chris Cvitanovic

Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

How can we improve knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers to facilitate evidence informed decision-making? Of course there is no one size fits all approach, but here I outline four strategies that could be adapted and implemented across different contexts: (i) knowledge co-production, (ii) embedding, (iii) knowledge brokers, and (iv) boundary organisations. These are illustrated in the figure below.

Knowledge co-production

Perhaps the most widely advocated approach to achieving improved knowledge exchange, knowledge co-production refers to the process whereby decision-makers actively participate in scientific research programs from the onset, collaborating with researchers throughout every aspect of the study including design, implementation and analysis. Continue reading

Ten steps to strengthen the environmental humanities

Community member post by Christoph Kueffer and Marcus Hall

Christoph Kueffer (biography)

How might the environmental humanities complement insights offered by the environmental sciences, while also remaining faithful to their goal of addressing complexity in analysis and searching for solutions that are context-dependent and pluralistic?

There is a long and rich tradition of scholarship in the humanities addressing environmental problems. Included under the term ‘environmental studies’ until recently, fields such as the arts, design, history, literary studies, and philosophy are now gathering under the new umbrella of the ‘environmental humanities’. Continue reading