Research uptake: a road hedged up with thorns

“The road that goes from a piece of research to public policy is a winding, forked and blurry one” (Weyrauch y Selvood, 2007)

The goal of any research is to have an impact, and not to be kept in a drawer or forgotten on a bookshelf.
Wordle: Research Communications II

The global south does not lack robust economic and social research; a lot of it is being carried out with the intention of helping policymakers develop better policies for better development. Sadly, very little of that research achieves its objective mainly because it is poorly communicated to its intended target right audience.

Southern researchers experience particular barriers to having their knowledge influence global debates on development. Accessing development research and data, securing research funding, communicating research findings to peers and policy audiences, the way southern research is perceived and demanded are amongst the key challenges southern researchers face when informing policy. Besides, publishing in international journals is often harder for them due to their lack of access to the latest research necessary for referencing. It goes without saying that Southern research institutes may lack the communications capacity and budgets required to ensure effective research communication, compared to their equivalents in the North. GDNet’s own survey data also points to the dominance of northern academic practices making it harder for southern research to be seen on an equal footing.

In an attempt to highlight the challenges that southern researchers face and focus on solutions and ideas that help the development community to Connect South and ensure a more effective research uptake, we have been conducting a series of interviews with southern researchers who took part of GDNet Research Communications Capacity Building events.

At the latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Workshop which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, and as part of building the researchers’ capacity in research communications; we had the opportunity to hear from some of the participants about the challenges they face in their respective countries when trying to get their voices heard.

The following came out as significant challenges in different African countries:

  • Lack of interest expressed by policymakers in what academics produce on economic and social development
  • Crafting effective and simplified messages exempted of jargon and terminologies
  • Getting research published in reputable academic journals and newspapers
  • Lack of understanding of the value research has
  • Existing gender bias aspect in the development community (perception of research produced by women in some African countries)
  • Motivating media practitioners to listen to researchers and pitching stories out of academic research
  • Establishing a dialogue between academic researchers, decision makers and communication practitioners
  • Lack of accuracy of media practitioners when publishing research findings

Watch highlights from different interviews (English)

Watch highlights from different interviews (French)

This blog is part of a series of blogs on research communications challenges faced in the global south.

If you want to hear more from southern researchers, watch the following interviews:

Why do researchers struggle to communicate their research for evidence-based policymaking?

The challenges facing southern researchers in the Arab world

Good research hidden behind walls of subscriptions

Financement : Défi majeur de la recherche sur le développement

9 Responses to Research uptake: a road hedged up with thorns

  1. researchimpact says:

    Interesting that many of the challenges experienced by Southern researchers listed above are also experienced by researchers in Canada. We don’t usually experience the same type of gender barrier nor do I think we have the barrier about publishing in reputable journals, but the other barriers identified above are also experienced in our settings. We find that institutional knowledge brokers who are trusted by policy makers and researchers and able to support them working in collaboration to co-produce policy relevant research is a key to closing this loop. I know DRUSSA ( is working towards this. We should compare the successes of such institutional knowledge brokers in Canadian and African contexts.

    • Zeinab Sabet says:

      Totally agree! knowledge brokers have a significant role to play, particularly with young researchers working individually and who are not part of an organisation/institution and for whom organizing dissemination workshops (as an example of successful tactics to communicate research) in collaboration with policymakers is almost a mission impossible.

  2. A comparison like that would be very interesting and I suspect the results could be surprising. I was interested to read a comment by one of our DRUSSA ( participants in Kenya about how they packaged and communicated a piece of research for a targeted community to great success, yet when they followed the same methodology to a different, equally targeted audience, it failed dismally. She ascribed the result to despondency, so no matter what level your skill, sometimes your best efforts will hit a brick wall.

    Last year, DRUSSA ( presented two postgraduate short courses in three locations across Sub-Saharan Africa (Stellenbosch, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; and Accra, Ghana) in an effort to improve researchers’ individual skills sets around the practice of research uptake. A clear sign that knowledge and skills around RU are needed was the over-subscription to these courses, respectively Science Utilisation and Impact, and Science Communication. This year, more short courses will be offered. These can ultimately form the basis for credits towards the DRUSSA MPhil degree offered by the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch, which sees its first intake of students next month. We also work with our participant universities (24 in all) to establish and/or improve institutions’ organisational structures to accommodate and facilitate the practice and management of research uptake. Of course, once we see some results, we’ll share methodologies, processes and so on with other universities.

    • Zeinab Sabet says:

      Results of such a comparison will be indeed very surprising, and informative! I guess that’s why research uptake is a matter of developing specific skills rather than a model; which cannot be applicable in all situations. This proves how crucial it is for researchers to develop a better understanding of the importance of knowing the context and identifying the audience, in order to be able to tailor the findings accordingly.

      Are the material of those workshops on research uptake organised by Drussa made public? If yes, could you please share the link with me?

      I take this opportunity to invite you to check out what we have on research communications and uptake:

  3. dorinebolo says:

    The linkages between research (and evidence from it) and policy and practice is a constant challenge in Africa (as in many other places). In response to this, The Scinnovent Centre ( has initiated capacity building courses on “The Art of influencing policy change: tools and strategies for researchers” to equip the researchers withe the necessary skills to take their research to policy and practice. Next week, 12th-14th February one such courses will be conducted in Nairobi, Kenya. For details, check out the website

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  5. Zeinab Sabet says:

    Hello Dorinebolo,

    Many thanks for your comments. Very interesting the work you do. Is there any available material from the course you mentioned online?
    I would love to have a look if there are any. Please also visit our page where yuo can find handouts and material from the capacity building workshops we do for African researchers,

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