It is widely recognized that most research sits on shelves or is stored in computer databases rather than being disseminated and used.
The most common challenge in disseminating research is the language in which reports are prepared. Researchers may be experts in their fields but the users of the research are common people in the street. Thus the architects and potential users of research often do not share the same language. Too often researchers dress their work up so it sounds fancy and complicated, producing technical research reports of different sizes but all in the language of the expert.
Unfortunately, theirs is not the language of farmers, policymakers or extension officers, who find much of what is being presented less relevant than it should be. This is not because the subject matter of the research is not interesting but because the language is abstruse. Researchers lack the capacity to produce reports that will be accessible to readers: information that is translated into vernacular formats with which readers are familiar and that they can comfortably read. For new information to be understood it must be translated into cultural symbols and patterns with which readers are familiar.
When planning the dissemination of research it is critical to determine the intent: to produce a useful tool that can be used to bring about change, not just to deliver more bulk information. Understanding is one challenge, but the major problem is to produce a useful report that can be applied to solve a problem. Although research may focus on related issues, the researchers determine the focus of the research and it may not always respond to people’s needs. People will try to use complicated information if it solves problems. But if research fails to bring results, it will sit on a shelf and few, if any, will care about it.
There is another challenge in effectively disseminating research: how to communicate findings. For example, an agricultural research institution in Tanzania conducted research on cassava, intending to improve food security and increase the value of what was produced. The researchers presented their cassava innovation to the several districts, targeting extension officers. The researchers conducted a workshop using PowerPoint to present their findings on how to improve cassava productivity. Several months after the workshop, the funding organization wanted to know how extension officers had mobilized communities to apply the innovation on cassava. They hadn’t. Most extension workers did not do anything after the training, as they did not have computers with PowerPoint or projectors to teach farmers about the information the research team had provided.
The question is, does it make sense to undertake research if the results are not understood or used to bring about change in the community?
To take the research out of museum, it is critical for researchers to talk to potential beneficiaries, to visualize how policymakers will debate revising policy, and farmers will cultivate their land as a result, and how extension advisors will mentor communities on new agricultural technologies.
The more intimately researchers know the potential users of their findings in terms of age, need, income, educational attainment, lifestyle and vocabularies, the better they will be able to write readable, researchable reports. It is also necessary to understand how various users communicate or use information and to to channel key research messages in ways that users will access and communicate to others in their respective networks.
Blogpost by Jasson Kalugendo, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – jassonk(at)empowermentafrica.org
Picture courtesy Zack Frank/Smithsonian American Art Museum/WikiMedia
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.