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Research Uptake: from a thorn in the side to a rose by another name?

By Nasreen Jessani
on February 12, 2015

A plethora of examples, a panoply of presentations, and a parade of tweets (@resupmeetup) and blogs. This overflowing energy and overwhelming activity is the hallmark of all major conferences these days. So what makes the ResUpMeetUp   symposium unique?  Well for starters, the 2 day symposium complemented with a 2 day training workshop focused only on one dimension: #researchuptake.

The deliberate focus on research to policy, practice and people, which one may consider narrow, focused on an issue that often ends up being one session or one workshop of large global conferences: an add-on so to speak. Just like M&E used to be an afterthought in projects and programmes in the past, knowledge translation, communication, research uptake etc until fairly recently has been suffering the same plight. The ResUpMeetUP symposium placed it front and center.

Organised by AFIDEP, IDS-Sussex, Quaternary Consulting and funded by UK DfID, the symposium attracted researchers, research uptake managers, communications experts, funders and students to Nairobi, Kenya from 9-12 Feb, 2015. The participants’ affiliations varied across sectors (water, agriculture, health), disciplines (communication, research, evaluation), organisations (funders, NGOs, think tanks, universities) and geographies (mainly Europe, Africa and Asia). While this is by no means an exhaustive list or representative sample, one really is compelled to ask – as always – psst….who’s missing?

So what does one talk about for 2 days on research uptake?

Well, first of all what is research uptake? What does it mean? Who is it for? Who does it? Is it really different though from other similar movements (K* etc) or does it reflect Shakespeare’s famous line from Romeo and Juliet – “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and thereby reframing (renaming?) a symposium on #knowledgetranslation/K* as one on #researchuptake? However, pseudonyms aside, issues such as ethics of research uptake, the role of funders in encouraging research uptake, the challenges of measuring impact of research uptake endeavors, and the dilemmas of researchers in playing advocacy roles struck me as some of the important contributions (amongst many) of such a symposium.

The struggle with not always knowing the best methods, strategies and tools for research uptake used to manifest as a thorn in the side of researchers and decision makers alike. The symposium demonstrated however that importance of research uptake has gained more attention over the last few years. As one can imagine, for some this was a new and exciting gathering of like-minded actors; for others this sounded just like new packaging of an old idea. Innovations in strategies for research uptake were inspiring for many but unsurprisingly  led to questions about capacity building in research uptake.

What remains to be seen however is whether ResUPMeetUP will be able to replicate its power to convene with power to retain: will the dispersion of participants be accompanied by dissipation of energy? Self-selection into most conferences and symposia by default is a gathering of individuals and organizations with a similar penchant.  It also favors those able to communicate in English and by circumstance therefore limited in sphere of influence and scope of contribution. Was ResUPmeetUP, once again, an example of a mass gathering that sought to preach to (and learn from) the converted? Will the values, beliefs, skills and energy go beyond those who already have a proclivity to promote research use? What next? More reflections coming soon…

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