By: Alitzel Valadez (RDI Network Intern). Alitzel is studying her Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has been a great help updating our website, pulling together our newsletter and supporting our everyday activities.
The ERIID Guide is a novel resource that provides Australian development practitioners and researches with information, practical tools and strategies on how to maximise the impact of ethical, inclusive and sustainable research. This guide explains in detail the ‘Framework for Exploring Research for Development Impact’ (FERDI), which constitutes specific tools to enhance research impact. These tools are grouped in five different facilitators and for every facilitator, there is at least one case study that helps to further explain and clarify its meaning.
The ERIID Guide not only provides the reader with a clear explanation of the necessary tools for positive research impact; it also offers a number of other resources and templates to fully comprehend the complexities and essentials of doing research. Any development practitioner or researcher, or even anyone interested in the field, will find value in reading it and applying, when possible, the tools and suggestions.
This is by no means an exhaustive summary of the report, but there are six key points that stood up to me the most. My recommendation is for you to read this post and then read the guide. You will definitely find value in doing so!
Nothing is permanent
When doing development research – and then when assessing the impact of research projects, one of the most important things to remember is that nothing is permanent nor static. Plans for a specific outcome might need to be changed accordingly. This means that it is essential to always assess and reassess the question of how to maximise impact throughout all stages of the research project. In order to do so, researchers also need to have an intentional focus. They need to establish specific goals, which are crucial for good planning and project design, work towards achieving them and adjust accordingly when needed.
Know the context, know your audience (and anyone else that could be a stakeholder for that matter)
It’s crucial to understand the socio-cultural and political context of the community that you are working with, and the only way to truly do that, is with the help of locals. Cultural barriers, including the language, can prove to be very detrimental for the impact of a research project. It can even hinder the acquisition of data. Researchers need to be aware and acknowledge the power differentials that exist between all stakeholders, especially between researchers, local partners, research beneficiaries and funders.
For any research project, it is indispensable to define its audience, its beneficiaries or end users, and the possible impact it will have in all interested parties. The three essential questions to pose for knowing the stakeholders are: Who wants this research? Who needs this research? Who will this research affect (negatively and positively)?
Connect with locals and establish research partnerships
Researchers and development practitioners should take their time to connect with the local community, and should strive to involve local researchers from the get-go. Beware of research that disregards indigenous knowledge or that is extractive in nature. Always strive for co-production of the research project and involve local researchers in research publications! The aim is that all parties involved in the research have a sense of ownership over it.
Researchers need to consider co-operative planning to integrate all relevant stakeholders. Even if funders direct the flow of the research, development practitioners should strive to create proactive engagement with locals through good planning, connecting with local communities (particularly with minority groups) and establishing research partnerships (even before the beginning of a project).
Consider how you are communicating the products of the research
The research outputs –the products of the research– and the way such outputs are disseminated and published, has an effect on the audience it reaches. It might sound simple, which is why it can sometimes be overlooked in planning! If the goal of the research is to impact a community, then the research team has to ensure that it is tailoring the research output in the best way possible for the audience to understand the message (consider the effectiveness of an academic journal article versus illustrated posters for a local community with unstable access to internet).
Negative impacts, even if undesired, are possible
Research should not be taken lightly, and development practitioners need to be aware that conducting research has an impact on countries and communities. At all points of the research process, practitioners need to consider all the possible unintended consequences of the research and the project, as well as maintaining an inclusive, ethical and sustainable practice above all else. Even if a project is deemed to have a positive national impact, if it is not inclusive and it then leads to a community’s disempowerment or mistreatment, then the overall impact was not positive.
Think about lasting engagement
When talking about the impact of a research project, it is necessary to consider what is necessary to produce continuing and lasting engagement. When analysing impact, one must not only see it through the lens of funders and aid providers. This would only create a short-sighted perspective of the real impact, insofar it only provides information about the impact for those designing or funding the project. Conversely, one must critically analyse how the end-users and any other stakeholders were affected by the research and if they were truly positively impacted.
And remember that research evaluators suggest a minimum period of two years after the completion of a project before it is possible to evaluate research impacts. A research projects does not end after data collection and analysis, or the publication of the research findings is completed. Impact is long-term and researchers must be aware of this at every stage of the project!
Citation: RDI Network (2020) Enhancing Research Impact in International Development: A practical guide for practitioners and researchers. Authored by Nichole Georgeou and Charles Hawksley.