A veterinarian explains a study to villagers in East Darfur. Photo from Hussein Sulieman
Research is an important tool to improve resilience programming and policies across the globe. But it is only helpful if it gets used. So how do you improve the chances of that happening?
Prior to joining the Building Resilience to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) team at Tufts, Anne spent many years developing tools and services to help decision makers understand what research exists on their interests, how to assess that research, and how to use it in their organisation.
The main challenge these leaders faced when it came to research was that there is too much of it, with too little time to sort through it.
When you produce research and put it out through the web, social media, email, and events you risk it falling to the bottom of the inbox until it gets deleted in an inbox purge.
So, how do you make sure that key people use your research? You must ensure that they:
1. Know about it
2. Understand it
3. Trust it
You can achieve all this by identifying key influencers in your target audience before you begin your research and engaging with them throughout the research process.
Have an open dialogue with key stakeholders and “influencers” early in the research process to craft research that will be relevant to a variety of audiences. “Influencers” are individuals who have wide networks and are a trusted source within those networks. Involving them early and often will help get your research outputs in front of others.
The Building Resilience in Chad and Sudan (BRICS) consortium, part of the BRACED programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is currently conducting a study in Sudan that highlights effective ways to involve key stakeholders from the beginning of the research process.
Prior to BRICS, Tufts conducted a study with the Federal and State-level Ministry of Animal Resources (MAR), faculty at the University of Gadarif and Al Massar (a Sudanese NGO dedicated to the needs of nomadic people) that examined livestock mobility, migration patterns and market strategies, and offered recommendations for policymakers and service providers interacting with pastoralist communities .
Because of their positions and experience, these individuals were some of the “influencers” we deliberately involved early and often. At the end of the study in April 2016, some lauded the value of the research studies, and felt they highlighted nomads’ needs and improved understanding of mobility practices in the state. Participating herders were also pleased that their voices were heard.
One tribal leader commented that “the documented experience from this region (in negotiating access to cross-border natural resources) could be developed and transferred to other regions and countries, to solve big problems for people and create consensus”.
When we set out to design a new study on this theme as part of BRICS, we worked with the same national stakeholders with whom we worked with previously, our BRICS partner (Concern Worldwide) and funder (DFID), to identify the knowledge gaps that our study would address and develop research questions.
For example, one of the main gaps our study identified was limited understanding of how farmers and herders are changing the way they use land because of climate and other changes. Therefore, this new study will help us better understand the seasonal dynamics of livestock mobility in West Darfur and how livestock producers access and use key resources (land, water, forestry, pasture and range) on a seasonal basis.
The inclusion of the influencers, partners and funder at this early stage helped us consider a rangeof perspectives and needs. Importantly, this work also ensures that key organisations and individuals know that the study is happening and are invested in it being carried out successfully. They also understand the questions we are trying to answer and (we hope) will trust the results since they have been involved in the study design and process.
As we begin the study, we will expand this group further to include more people. We will hire a research team who have local and national networks and will hold a kick-off workshop for officials and local leaders to learn about the study. Then we will provide regular updates to our “influencers,” partners, and funder as we begin to gather data.
Once the study is completed, we will hold a second workshop with officials, local leaders, and study participants to review the data and test hypotheses. We will ask some of our “influencers” to use the data to develop their own policy papers.
Research outputs without an audience are destined to remain on the shelf, therefore the research process is just as (if not more) important as the results. Engaging with and involving key influencers early and often will set your study up to be a useful, understood, and trusted resource for your intended audience and beyond.
Anne Radday is a research programme manager and Helen Young is a research director at the Feinstein International Center, Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University