The story behind the success


Billions of dollars are poured into scientific research every year for noble causes such as lifting people out of poverty or caring for the environment. There is increasing scrutiny of research and development investments having impact. One important step towards achieving impact is the adoption of recommendations from scientific research. This study looks at what efforts were made towards getting uptake of the research results and what triggered these actions. Unlike the core scientific research which is typically well documented, uptake efforts by the research team are rarely documented or analyzed.

The study

In this study, ten of some of the most significant successes of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) over the last decade were selected as case studies. This study was based mainly on interviews with the scientists involved in the research, who were typically in close communication with the adopters of the research recommendations and held valuable insights into what triggered uptake of the scientific research recommendations.

These case studies were from nine countries and covered a wide range of issues from, for example, the sustainable use of wetlands to technologies for better on-farm water management, and restoring the quality of drinking water after the tsunami. Also included in Appendix 1 of the report is a literature review of current adoption of uptake approaches.

Key conclusions

1. Develop uptake strategies

  • The value of developing ‘strategies’ for uptake - The literature review showed that uptake is often not recognized as a specialized skill and incorporated as another discipline in a project. The case studies showed that the extent to which uptake activities are being undertaken can be under-recognized as they are often not formally recorded. Recognizing the efforts and value through formal uptake strategies will assist with more and better uptake.
  • Uptake efforts should commence at the outset of the research and also continue post-project. Integrating the uptake and research was seen as being valuable with each inputting to the other, e.g., uptake efforts can identify attitudes and needs of stakeholders useful for developing appropriate research solutions; and research using participatory approaches can be tapped into for building relationships and ownership of solutions, which can assist in increasing the chances of uptake. Starting the uptake efforts early and continuing post-project was also important because of the typical long lead time to adoption of the recommendations.
  • Treating the development of the uptake strategy as iterative and incremental was recognized as being important to cater for the ongoing research work and to have flexibility in changing environments.
  • Incorporating monitoring and evaluation of the stakeholders and uptake efforts is important to provide feedback and continually develop uptake efforts appropriately.
  • Formal recognition and organizational support for uptake efforts and approaches were concluded to be valuable, and could lead to more effective uptake of scientific recommendations. This can include building in-house skills and culture, and documenting and sharing lessons learned.

2. Partner for impact

  • Partnering and relationship building were recognized as being very important, with the following specific approaches identified:
  • Relationships needed to be built through long-term strategic commitments and not just be project-based.
  • Relationships could be built at a professional corporate level, but most effective were those built at a very personal level by the scientists, particularly in developing countries.
  • Scientists need time, resources and guidance/training on how to nurture relationships.
  • Allow others to take ownership of the solutions – influencers or adopters once sold on an idea may need to feel ownership of the solution; and researchers may need to forego some public credit for the sake of achieving uptake of the solution.

3. Capacity build to enable uptake

  • Capacity building is needed as part of an uptake strategy - providing the skills and knowledge so that stakeholders will be capable of adopting solutions.

4. Undertake the research through participatory and selective approaches

  • Working with early adopters (innovators) could lead to greater success, earlier. This targeted approach combined with a participatory approach, where researchers work closely with stakeholders in developing the solutions, was seen to be effective.

5. Communication internally and externally for uptake

  • Both targeted and mass communications were effective in different situations. Targeted communications were more effective when targeting a specific group with a very clear objective in mind. Mass media was effective in influencing the government and policy when the issue was of a highly political nature.
  • Internal communications with the research project team was important to achieve understanding and support of the uptake efforts, and was particularly important in larger multi-partner projects.

6. Influence or adapt to the local environment

  • Issues being high on the stakeholder’s agenda was identified as being important for gaining attention and adoption of a solution. Uptake strategies need to include efforts to elevate the issue on the agenda; however, this did not automatically lead to adoption.
  • Adapt uptake approaches to the cultural environment – For example, in some case studies this required a local/national person being the lead communicator. In these cases, foreign scientists had credibility for technical knowledge, but only local specialists were accepted in the adaptation and implementation of solutions in a local setting.
  • In some cases, specific triggers were identified, i.e., a specific activity/act that created a turning point in achieving uptake. It is recommended that opportunities for triggers be continually sort.

7. Build your reputation – it matters

  • Building an organization’s scientific credibility is helpful, as scientific reputation was a factor contributing to uptake.

8. Capture lessons learned - through impact assessments

  • Impact assessments should include contributions of uptake efforts – assessing not just the impact but ‘how’ this was achieved. This can allow for more rigorous analysis of uptake efforts and understanding of what contributed to the impact.

Overall, it is recognized that more uptake efforts and more effective uptake efforts, recognition of uptake as a discipline and integrating this into the research work would be a benefit – a benefit of achieving uptake of recommendations from scientific research and ultimately a benefit to humanity.

Published report:


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