After the first day of the ResUpMeetUp Symposium in Nairobi, an intense day of plenary and parallel sessions on wide-ranging issues around research uptake, ReBUILD researchers Yotamu Chirwa and Sreytouch Vong give their thoughts.
The first session of ResUpMeetUp had an inevitable focus on health, with both a member of Kenya’s Parliamentary Committee on Health and the Director of Medical Services presenting. But the presentations re-emphasised the centrality of research which translates into policy change for tangible and observable improvement of people’s access to sustainable quality health care. The DFID representative aptly stated that the Symposium was a gathering of researchers from diverse backgrounds with sound experience in research and evidence development that will allow exchange of experiences with research uptake from across the globe and across diverse cultural situations. The symposium was a demonstration of DFID’s support the global research and evidence gathering process, not as end in itself, but as a means to bring about positive change to policies and translation of same into programmes that impact on health outcomes. A keynote presentation on Framing big issues in research uptake reiterated the broad conceptualisation of policy that we need to keep in mind as we think and plan our research and evidence uptake strategies. Policy is not the pamphlet or documents but “all decisions, plans, and actions undertaken to achieve specific health care goals” towards fulfilment of a desired outcome, usually positive. An interesting but real challenge that confronts research uptake or translation of research into policy are the fundamental questions of credibility, robustness and comprehensiveness of research and the relevancy of the research to the demands of the decision makers. However several presentations dwelt on the means around these problems and indeed these challenges could be surmounted by having research uptake embedded in the research cycle from conceptualisation, design right up to the conclusion of the research. Packaging of messages to policy is critical, can make the desired impact and thus requires huge investment of effort. And the presentation from the Parliamentary Committee member on “Utilisation of Research evidence in Government: Policy, legislation and implementation” referred to perennial problem of the “what we know and what we do gap”. The analogy that there are numerous books that have been authored but that research has not changed people’s lives, implying that there is a lot that is known on many health problems but we do not use the evidence to optimise outcomes.
At one of the afternoon’s parallel sessions on overcoming barriers to research uptake, one key issue was the need to ensure that research is highly accurate (so that the question of credibility raised above is dealt with emphatically) but it should never be taken for granted that accuracy of evidence is a given; it is complex, time consuming, costly and requires huge outlay of resources.
An important lesson from the parallel session is the diversity of the landscape within which research uptake or translation of evidence into policy occurs. Diversity along many spheres including policy making environment, language, media composition and size, centralised or decentralised produce a dynamism that requires careful planning of the uptake activities. You may need to really come up with a systematic method with allocation of time to specific activities and the most important being building relationship. Such building of relationships should follow a continuum starting at the individual level to the institutional and organisational. This is very important as concentrating at the individual end of the continuum may lead to problems in the long term, if the individuals with whom you have built up relations leave, or move out of the sphere where you want to influence policy.
In another session, one important lesson on the question of stakeholder mapping was the way stakeholders mutate and therefore require a rethink, leading to the question of whether one stakeholder mapping exercise, traditionally conducted at the inception of the research enough. With the policy landscape being highly eclectic, should a case be made for several stakeholder mappings during a project or programme.
Overall, the first day of ResupMeetup was a rich outlay of practical experiences with research uptake in different contexts. The afternoon’s panel session on From theoretical framework to practical approaches, chaired by ReBUILD’s Sally Theobald, provided an overview of different framework of research uptake, followed by the parallel sessions on Barriers to research uptake and Approaches to increase influence. So far, the ResUpMeetUp Symposium has demonstrated that a focus on research uptake and communication is integral to evidence-based policy development that results in real changes towards a better and desirable outcome.
Yotamu Chirwa is a Senior Research Fellow at the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in Zimbabwe working with ReBUILD. Sreytouch Vong is ReBUILD’s Principal Investigator at the Cambodia Development Resource Institute. They are part of the 8-strong team from all ReBUILD’s partner countries at the ResUpMeetUp Symposium and Training Exchange.