Look out ResearchImpact…here comes Africa / Attention, RIR… l’Afrique entre en scène!

David Phipps, RIR-York

Is it knowledge mobilization? Is it Research Uptake Management? If it walks like a broker and acts like a broker it probably is a broker. And some African universities are brokering to the mutual benefit of communities and universities.

S’agit-il de mobilisation des connaissancesou de capacité d’exploitation de la recherche?Si cette personne marche comme un courtier et se conduit comme un courtier, on ne risque pas grand-chose à l’appeler courtier!Certaines universités africaines font du courtage au profit mutuel des communautés et des universités.

INORMS is the International Network of Research Management Societies. Many countries have associations of professionals that help university researchers find and spend their research funding. In Canada this is the CAURA, the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators. Some universities in Canada, like those in the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) network, are helping their researchers by investing services that connect research to society. We call this anything from knowledge mobilization to community engagement to knowledge translation.

Well there’s another term that is new to Canada but is commonly used in African universities: research uptake which is the act of research being taken up and used by communities. Research uptake management is therefore the professional services provided by universities to support research uptake.

DRUSSA is Development Research Uptake for Sub Saharan Africa, a network of 24 African universities who are funded by United Kingdom Department for International DRUSSA logoDevelopment (DFID) and supported by the Association of Commonwealth Universities to build capacity among research service providers to help connect research to community partners. While there are lots of discipline specific research networks that strive to create social and economic benefits from university research DRUSSA and RIR are networks of universities who are focused on the practice of knowledge mobilization/research uptake at the institutional level. The only other one I know is the Mid-west Knowledge Mobilization Network. MKMN has its origins in education but now strives to build capacity for knowledge mobilization across disciplines.

Because of this synergy between RIR and DRUSSA, I have had the pleasure of participating as a member of the Leaders Network for the DRUSSA program. This has mostly involved commenting on curriculum (yes, they have developed a curriculum for to build capacity for research uptake managers!) but I was invited to INORMS to facilitate a workshop for delegates that included DRUSSA representatives. See the workshop agenda for more information on this session.

DRUSSA workshop 140410There were over 40 participants from 23 countries including countries from Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Oceania/Australasia. What I found most interesting were the examples presented by the African universities. Many were around local agriculture and local poverty reduction such as the Community Integrated Rural Development Project (CIRDP) implemented among rural women in Ile-Ogbo, Osun State, Nigeria with University of Ibadan.

The key to many of these projects that I saw was the local element. I got the impression that these universities had developed close ties with their local communities. This is the feeling I get in the one university-one town model like in Lakehead/ThunderBay or Brock/St Catherine’s. These universities are naturally closely interwoven with the local cultural, social and economic fabric of their towns. Knowledge mobilization comes naturally to them.

Now imagine the situation where a university and a local community have developed a shared desire for knowledge mobilization/research uptake. And then layer on that a multi-year funded project with two critical components: 1) training and networking to build capacity for professionalization of research uptake management; and 2) leaders at each institution investing resources (funding, space, staff time) to support research uptake management. That is a recipe for success.

In Canada we have elements of these but we lack the multi-year funding to build capacity and provide incentives for institutional leaders to invest. Many universities have examples of successful knowledge mobilization and engaged scholarship but they are research/partner driven, often not supported by institutional capacity. The RIR universities are building institutional capacity but without incentives that come with external funding. Canada needs funding equivalent to the DRUSSA program to create a pan-Canadian capacity for knowledge mobilization. From 1995-2009, the tri-council IPM program funded the growth of Canada’s university technology commercialization sector. We need a similar program to build capacity for knowledge mobilization

It is working for African universities. Indeed African universities in the DRUSSA network are poised to become global leaders in research uptake management because of their local culture, their institutional leadership and the DFID funding and support from the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

But the question remains. Is it knowledge mobilization or research uptake? The answer is: yes.

Thanks to Christine Trauttsmandorff (@ChristineTrautt), SSHRC, for discussions at INORMS that contributed to this post.

DRUSSA workshop


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