What does research uptake look like?

RDI Network
September 2021
3 min read

Research uptake is a nebulous term and definitions can vary wildly throughout the sector. A shared understanding of uptake is needed to effectively evaluate research and the areas in which it has an impact.
Here are some considerations to develop a wholistic definition of research uptake:

  • Research is just as important as outcomes: If findings were all that mattered, research outputs would be mere sentences long. It is important to map out the processes undertaken, so readers develop an understanding of the ideas underpinning studies. 
  • Uptake doesn’t mean that all recommendations are accepted. Research should not expect to change society altogether. There are countless external factors that shape perspectives and cultural attitudes. Research plays only a small part when informing decision making.
  • Good research might not result in uptake. The uptake of research is heavily dependent on favourable conditions, as research conditions do not control the political agenda. Economic conditions, social conflicts, and natural disasters can impede the ability of research to have its desired impact. Timing is often the key factor in determining whether research is taken up. 
  • Uptake is not just for policymakers. Think of public health advice. Not all research needs to be directed towards those at the higher levels of governance. Research can be directed towards numerous groups. An important audience for research in international development is the next generation of researchers. The creation of textbooks and student guides should be held in the same regard as policy briefs. 
  • A long-term perspective must be applied. Nobel Prizes are not awarded for last year’s work. Instead, they are the product of decades of reflection, evaluation, and implementation. One must not be too hasty to expect immediate outcomes. This can be particularly challenging given the expectations from donors. 

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