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22 May 2018
Uptake of African University Research by Policy Makers Print
Friday, 10 October 2014 19:21

This blog outlines some key findings of a survey conducted by the Think Tank Initiative in 2013, which surveyed the key information sources that African policy makers use in the decision making process. DRUSSA Universities can use this information to refine their research uptake strategies to target policy makers with their research findings.

African Universities conduct research, both theoretical and empirical, using a wide range of methodologies, principally for academic readerships but also and for diverse stakeholders.  Almost all of this research is conducted with the aim of generating new knowledge, insights, practices or products that are relevant for development. Not all of it is policy relevant, although the policy sector is a key audience for university research.

"The TTI study surveyed high level policy users of research in ten African countries"

At the SARIMA  Conference in June 2014 Dr Peter Taylor, Program Manager for the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) presented information on a survey conducted by the TTI in 2013. The TTI’s work focuses on strengthening the relationship between research for policy influencing and policy makers. The survey makes for an interesting read, and its findings can inform DRUSSA Universities Research Uptake strategies. The presentation can be found here.


Survey of high level policy users

The TTI study surveyed high level policy users of research in ten African countries (Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burkina Faso). The sample size was relatively small (forty respondents for each country) so it cannot be assumed that they are indicative, but they do give insight into the perspectives of those interviewed.


University based research institutes are underused by policy makers

For policy makers university-based research institutes seem to be an untapped resource.  Apart from Tanzania where university based research institutes are a key source, no country respondents ranked them as important. Overall only 34% of respondents used university- based research institutes as a key resource.  The main reason given for not using available resources was a lack of knowledge about the research institutes.  It seems that university research uptake strategies need to make a particular effort to reach this target group.

The institutes may have to face challenges in providing research information which is contrary to public opinion and government policy, but their location in universities, within a culture of academic freedom, provides the context for independence in recommending research evidence to policymakers.


Quality of research

A disappointing finding of the survey was that national universities were not at the top of the list of sources perceived as providing quality research. International think tanks, whether based in universities or not, received the highest rating in terms of quality of research, with national universities ranked fifth. In many ways this is a reflection more of the focus of African university research, of which only a small proportion is policy oriented, whereas national and international think tanks focus only on policy research. Universities however need to highlight the consistent quality and local relevance of their policy-relevant research in their research uptake strategies, in order to counter the belief that international agencies can provide better quality evidence.


"In an interview with Dr Taylor, he emphasised the importance of universities providing support for their individual researchers efforts to promote research uptake, as well as institutional channels for engagement with policy makers and other stakeholders"


Local context is important

Related to the issue of “perceived” quality is that, although policy makers recognise the importance of research from independent think tanks, they do not realise that very often this research is conducted in collaboration with national universities.  Policy makers rely on research which understands the local context – universities have a great advantage over international think tanks in their understanding of local conditions, but their involvement is often downplayed when the other institutions are the primary authors.

With the increasing capacity in African university research management offices universities are becoming able to ensure that their institutional role in partnerships and collaborations are contractually secured and can so integrate this role into their research uptake strategies.


Websites are important

Websites were seen by all respondent categories as the preferred way to access information.  Across the countries surveyed eight out of ten respondents ranked websites as the most useful channel. Only in Ethiopia and Tanzania did print media come up tops.

Although confined to policy makers the survey shows that websites are an important way of communicating with stakeholders and having a link on the main university site to research projects and outputs is likely to increase uptake.  Profiling current research on the front page while in progress  and when completed is also likely to improve uptake. This should be done without forgetting that paper copies of research evidence reports and policy briefs remain a key resource for policy makers.


Universities institutional role in research uptake

In an interview with Dr Taylor, he emphasised the importance of universities providing support for their individual researchers efforts to promote research uptake, as well as formal channels for engagement with policy makers and other stakeholders. University communications/media offices can play a crucial role in providing researchers with the tools and know-how to promote their research effectively but universities can also put in place formal communication and dissemination channels where policy makers and others can engage with researchers about key policy issues. Policy makers often have their own key contacts at universities whom they call upon for advice,  but it is important to also establish channels of communication between the university as the institutional source,  and government departments, as well as relying on personal contact between academics and policymakers.


This blog is based on the original presentation by Dr Peter Taylor at the SARIMA Conference and additional interview questions.