HEARD recently shared its expertise at a training workshop on ‘translating scientific research for policy and decision makers’. Research Director, Dr Kaymarlin Govender, together with Dena Lomofsky, from Southern Hemisphere, facilitated a workshop training with biomedical and epidemiological researchers at UKZN on how to decode scientific research in a manner that is understandable to policy makers and programme implementers.

“The traditional mandate of universities and research institutions is to generate scientific knowledge which is then largely communicated in the form of journal papers, conferences, books and consultancy engagements. Academic careers are then built on researchers working within the relatively insulated space of a scientific community and this is seen as the end point in the path towards academic success,” said Govender. In the last decade or so, communities, funders and research institutions themselves have begun to question what constitutes impactful research. Research with impact does not happen without engagement. Impactful research, by definition, is relevant to how organisations operate to influence how society lives and works. There is now greater emphasis on applied research links theory to practice and the application of research methodologies to solving real world problems.

It is for this reason that the workshop was initiated in partnership with Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and Southern Hemisphere with funding support from the Wellcome Trust. The workshop discussed paradigms of practice of researchers and policy makers. It also covered the complexities regarding how policy decisions are arrived at with an understanding that evidence is just one part of a plethora of factors influencing decision making; alongside political and strategic considerations, expert opinion, stakeholder and public opinion and resource constraints. “This workshop was a timely one”, said Govender, “It provided tools for researchers to communicate their research and forms of evidence used in the policy process”. Topics covered at the workshop included models of practice for researchers and policy makers, barriers to the use of research in policy making, linkages and exchange models of health transfer research, and skills associated with audience mapping, writing policy briefs and developing research utilisation plans. At the end of the workshop, researchers were equipped with the knowledge and skills on making their research more understandable to a wider audience while grappling with some of the challenges of integrating research into policy and practice.

The workshop provided some interesting examples of HEARD’s work on policy and programmatic impact in Africa. According to Govender: “It was time for a renewed engagement, with the whole scientific enterprise to make it more responsive – without compromising quality and ethics – to solve complex, real world problems”. To achieve impact today, research must be inerdisciplinary and applied which means bringing together researchers across many disciplines, including graduate students and postdocs in the work, and involving organizations that could be expected to find applications for new knowledge. Most importantly, researchers need to be able to effectively disseminate and put their work into implementable solutions, in an effort to move beyond research for research sake.