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1 March 2017
Research of little benefit until it gets into use Print
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 00:00
In the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual letter for 2014, Bill Gates says economic improvements have lifted many countries out of poverty. He also predicts that “by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world”. He says countries will “benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labour forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments.”
 
This is a most encouraging view of the future. But how do the poor nations of Africa get from where we are now to where Bill Gates will have us in 2035? And what could be the role of institutions of higher education in getting us there? In a blog posted on the INASP and ACU websites, authors Jonathan Harle and Sue Corbett write that if countries were “to take control of their own development, and to generate the ideas and the policies that they need to do this, then it’s clear to us and our partners that higher education and research will need to play a central role.” 
 
And that central role would needs be have to extend to making sure good policies are written and ratified, based on robust research and sound practices are adopted, also based on good research.
 
Using a visual depiction of the research cycle, Harle and Corbett say universities would do well to improve all stages of the cycle, and go a step further to make sure research gets used outside the academic world.
 
Starting off, universities should secure access to high-quality, peer-reviewed research in scholarly publications to ensure a good learning environment for students and for academics to remain informed. In the second place, universities should continually invest in the skills of their academic staff and students, and thirdly they must make sure the research is visible. Very often this is as far it goes, with universities and their researchers believing the job is done and that they have gone beyond the call of duty if a piece of research makes it onto the news. 
 
Not so, say Harle and Corbett. “For research to be valued, and for it to address real-world problems, it needs to be used by those outside of the academic world.”
 
On his blog, Publication to Application, doctoral student Tilahun Nigatu Haregu at Monash University in Melbourne Australia, identifies the failure of research to get into use as the gap between research and policy/practice. He calls it the evidence-practice (E-P) gap, defining this gap as the difference between what we know (from the best available evidence) and what actually happens in current practice. He suggests that there are several forms of E-P relationships and sets out formulae to establish how these can work in reality.
 
In an earlier blog, Haregu suggests that there will always be a “natural” gap between evidence and policy / practice, but questions how much of this gap is real and can be closed, and how much is what he terms “phantom”.
 
It is important for universities to identify their “gaps” and do everything in their power to make sure research reaches the appropriate policymakers and potential implementers. To get this right, in the words of Harle and Corbett, would mean “investing in some very ordinary things – and particularly the capacity of their most valuable resource: their people.”
 
What evidence of yours has found its way into use, whether policy or practice, or both? Have you identified any gaps between evidence and policy/practice?
 
Linda Cilliers is the DRUSSA Online Editor
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