Highlights and reflections from the ResUp MeetUp

March 2015

Steve Adala is a communications officer for RESYST, based at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. In February 2015 Steve attended the first ever Research Uptake International Symposium and Training Exchange. This unique event brought together researchers, communications specialists, policymakers and others who work to get research used in policy and practice. Steve shares his highlights from the meeting below and reflects on how it will influence his work in the future.

I was really excited to attend the ResUp MeetUp Symposium and training exchange, which provided a great opportunity for me to meet with colleagues from other parts of the world, and to learn and share ideas about Research Uptake with them.

The symposium began with a bang with the former Director of medical services in Kenya, Dr James Nyikal (pictured below), calling on researchers to publish their work or perish. Dr Nyikal observed that over half of the research produced is never published, and urged researchers to share their work and allow it to be scrutinized by their peers. Along the same vein, another presenter Dr Eliya Zulu from the African Institute for Development Policy suggested that researchers should explore ways of getting research evidence out of the laboratories, scientific journals and academic conferences, and into the hands of people and organizations who can put it into practical use.

Some of the most interesting remarks during the Symposium were from Professor Mike English of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, KEMRI Wellcome Trust. Professor English has been conducting systematic reviews of research to measure the strength of evidence based on research papers. In his presentation, Professor English illustrated authoritatively how a lot of available research, when taken through the rigors of grading and systematic reviews, would not pass as quality research work and was unlikely to be published in journals.

The symposium surely lived up to its billing of being thought provoking, informative and a platform for knowledge sharing and learning. It was, however, interesting to note that there were no presentations on addressing the Impact of research. It was mentioned by the conference organizers that despite an appeal before the symposium, none of the invited guests chose to address the topic. I strongly believe that evaluating research impact is an important area worth exploring further, and is a topic I am interested to pursue in my work here in Kenya over the next few months. Evaluating and then communicating the impact of research is important for two main reasons; firstly to determine whether on-going health research programs are viable and sustainable, and secondly, to identify the value add of research to communities and ultimately to the funders of research.

In one sense, improving the impact of research was addressed indirectly during the two days of training that followed the Symposium. Training on issues like designing an effective communication strategy, data visualization, effective ways of pitching, and digital storytelling, all sought to bridge the gap between research and policy. I especially enjoyed a session on how to pitch effectively to decision makers held by Dr Garrity from CGIAR. In his words ‘pitching is an art and not a science’. A valuable lesson from Dr Garrity was not to use of the word ‘research’ when pitching, as this can change the direction of any conversation especially to potential donors. He instead suggested the use of phrases such as ‘we are doing an analysis’, or we are ‘conducting investigations’.   

I have taken home many lessons and new skills to use in my role as a communicator in health systems research, including novel ways of communicating research findings and of presenting these findings in a creative and convincing manner. For me the work begins immediately. I shall be keeping you updated on my list of to do activities in communicating the impact of research especially in Kenya’s health systems.

Research uptake