We’re asked time and time again what are the ‘key ingredients’ involved in successfully influencing change through research? At the recent ESRC-DFID Impact Conference, I asked researchers, practitioners and funders to share their best piece of advice from their own experience.
Some of the answers might be obvious, and some not so much, but all of them quite often get missed somewhere along the line. See below for the top tips for researchers on turning their research into impact, including links to ten video clips where interviewees expand on these points. I hope you find them useful!
1. Plan for impact from the start
From the very conception of a research project you need to think about what change you are trying to achieve, who you’ll need to involve to do this and what resources are required. Sridhar Venkatapuram (Kings College London) says that dissemination and influence should be central to each stage of the project, and not left as a ‘tag on’ at the end.
Melanie Knetsch (ESRC) offers practical advice on building an impact strategy by recommending, as a starting point, that researchers visit the ESRC’s Impact Toolkit, which provides the basics on how to think about the impact of your research.
Also Andrew Long (DFID) suggests that to ensure impact, the inclusion of a specific role, where someone is responsible for developing relationships and managing a project’s ‘impact pathway’ within research proposals is a strong start!
2. Involve stakeholders in the research process
Bringing in stakeholders into the research process so that they play a more active role overall is a popular point. Many interviewees explain that by involving them from the outset they are more likely to understand and trust the process and the outcomes, and therefore be positively influenced by them.
Tisunge Zuwaki (Centre for Social Research, University of Malawi) notes the importance of doing a preliminary needs assessment with beneficiaries and working with them to establish appropriate research methods. She explains that this helps the research process have greater value and impact for them. In addition she recommends that including NGOs at each stage of the project is essential.
In terms of policy impact, Maria Kett’s (Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre) advice is that from the start get people involved who have influence over policy in your research area, at national and local levels, so they know what you are doing and can use your research easily. Subindra Bogati (Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative) agrees with this, and states the need to involve the people who will implement the research, for example government officials, which helps bring about change from within.
3. Understand the political landscape you’re operating in
As all development work is inherently political Emma Crewe (School of African and Oriental Studies) advocates for all researchers doing an ethnography of the political landscape they’re working in. She explains that you really need to listen carefully to people to understand what’s going on around them. By understanding the actors and their needs, conflicts, timings and opportunities this will help to build relationships that are much more interesting and realistic, and likely to influence genuine change.
Richard Fatorma Ngafuan (Ministry of Labour, Republic of Liberia) highlights that through engaging various stakeholders in the research process this not only creates understanding and confidence in the process, but can also importantly help mobilise people to create change.
4. Make your research accessible
Once your work in underway and you’re starting to share information and findings with various stakeholders make sure that people can clearly understand what the research is saying.
Amos Zaindi (Self Help Africa) recommends that if researchers really want stakeholders including users to understand and apply the research they should avoid using overly complex language when explaining and disseminating it. He points out that people in rural communities and smallholder famers look for practical and simple solutions.
Explaining research to people who are non-experts, Sridhar Venkatapuram says, is also vital for supporting policy change because academics themselves don’t make policy. Making this effort to translate complex language into more accessible formats helps to build a bridge between academic research and policymaking.
5. Be flexible and open to change yourself!
During your research be open to questions and challenges, especially around language, as this is a potential route for gaining a deeper understanding. As Elaine Unterhalter (Institute of Education, University of London) states, this will have a big impact on your own perceptions as well as on broader discourse. She recommends that if your research process exposes very different concepts, social relations and/or structures from your original expectations then don’t be afraid to explore this and ‘go into the eye of the typhoon and push around’.
What are your key ingredients for turning research into impact? Send me, Elaine Mercer, your top tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related ESRC-DFID Joint Fund Projects:
Richard Fatorma Ngafuan: