Getting research into use is a critical factor in achieving outcomes
that improve the quality of life of poor people in Africa. Effective
research communication is vital to achieve research uptake and
measurement of the impact of investment in development research.
Researchers are expected to be key communication intermediaries but
there is very little institutional support for researchers to reach
their readerships. Even well-funded researchers tend to work in relative
isolation, which does not build institutional capacity. With effective
institutional strategies and permanent capacity in place, universities
can utilise research communication to have a significant impact on the
stakeholders that influence social and economic policy and practice.
This small-scale study considered the potential of a complementary
approach to existing research communication initiatives in sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA); a meso-level strategy to build capacity inside the
institution where the researcher is employed, and to establish research
communication expertise as a core competency set. It examined whether
central capacity could better support researchers, better utilise the
externally-funded support given on a project by project basis, enable
learning from multiple projects, and make the research outputs of
universities more visible, accessible, useable, cost-effective and
The need, demand and potential for capacity-building was examined
- On-line survey responses from 35 administrators working in the central
offices of 30 African universities in 11 countries, together with 23
- Face to face focus groups held in Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana and South
Africa involving 55 individuals in 4 universities and 7 DFID research
- Interviews with 5 international funding bodies with programmes in the
- A feedback session at the International Network of Research Management
Societies (INORMS) conference, attended by 35 delegates from 14
1. Universities are aware that stakeholders want research to be
2. The donors interviewed reported a high and long-term involvement in
institutional capacity-building, and an increasing interest in research
3. There is evidence in universities of a willingness to improve their
4. Constraints were also identified. Not all universities have invested
in support capacity, and generally it comes from a low base.
1. An intervention to develop SSA universities as key intermediary
institutions with organisational capacity in research communication
would be timely, address gaps in current provision and would complement
current programmes to improve the capacity of individual researchers to
get research into use.
2. An intervention should be selective – focussing initially on
universities with existing capacity and a suitable research profile.
3. Intervention is required at the strategic level to ensure
coordination within and between central functions, and better
communication between central offices and academic staff. This will
include improved use of the rapidly increasing ICT capacity in
4. Improving and aligning institutional capacity and professional
expertise into a functional unit is critical for sustainability, to
ensure the necessary visibility and accessibility to academic staff, and
to help ensure that long term support is available for researchers not
supported by donor programmes, especially the next generation of
5. Strong demand exists for a specialised multi-disciplinary
professional qualification – for accredited courses, delivered in
modularised formats to allow for in-service and distance learning modes.
- There is great potential to add value to the DFID Research
Communication Uptake portfolio by establishing a special interest
learning community in SSA universities.
A number of recommendations are made in the report.
Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), UK; Centre for Research into Evaluation of Science and Technology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; Organisational Systems Development, South Africa; Final Report of the Communicating Research for Utilisation (CRU) Scoping Study (2010) 20p