03-24-RTAC Article_b

From Paper to Practice: How PRB Supports Researchers to Put Their Results Into Action

Through the Research Technical Assistance Center (RTAC), led by NORC at the University of Chicago, PRB helps researchers communicate their work more effectively to target audiences with workshops, toolkits, webinars, and product development

One of PRB’s core strengths is helping researchers bring their results across the gap between research and policy. Through the Research Technical Assistance Center (RTAC), led by NORC at the University of Chicago, PRB helps researchers communicate their work more effectively to target audiences with workshops, toolkits, webinars, and product development. Over the first five years of the project, PRB has provided technical assistance to researchers in more than a dozen countries, working with them to develop research-to-action (R2A) plans, training manuals, policy briefs, fact sheets, and presentations.

A recent USAID Learning Lab blog post highlighted the success of two research teams in bringing their results to the attention of policymakers. One, in the rural Northern Philippines, identified barriers to childhood tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and treatment. Working with RTAC, they participated in a PRB-led R2A workshop through which they developed an R2A plan and a sample youth-focused policy on TB to share with ministry officials. The second team, which developed and tested a simple device to detect pesticides on produce in Nepal, is using the stakeholder connections strengthened through their R2A workshop to bring their technology to use outside the laboratory.

What are the keys to R2A success?

The R2A process PRB created for RTAC is based on principles of human-centered design, strategic communication processes, studies investigating readiness and successful strategies for research translation, and PRB’s years of experience working with researchers and policymakers around the world. These experiences taught us that there are key factors that help make our process of developing and implementing an R2A plan effective:

  • At least one member of the research team needs to put the time into the iterative process. RTAC selects research teams that have demonstrated commitment to bringing their research results into practice. PRB begins the collaboration by asking the research teams to designate a team member who will be responsible for ensuring that all team members attend scheduled sessions and follow through on their assignments. Creating and implementing a research to action plan is a lot of work, so we recommend that some of this work is split between team members if possible, but identifying a primary contact also helps the process go smoothly.
  • PRB helps with the workload by doing our own research and incorporating “knowns” into the research translation process, including background information on the research topic; research activities that are already planned; and existing policies, institutions, or frameworks that may be relevant to the research. Before an R2A workshop, PRB also customizes a research to action plan template to meet the needs of the research team and advises on the addition of research translation activities into the research project timeline. Which activities are chosen and when they are planned depend on where the team is in the research process.
  • As one of our workshop leaders likes to say, “Stakeholder interviews are where the rubber meets the road.” Identifying and communicating and collaborating with stakeholders is where PRB has been particularly adept at helping research teams think both inside and outside the box.

To get inside the box, we ask questions like:

  • Who has this research team worked with before?
  • What networks do they belong to that might help make connections to decisionmakers in the sector where the research may be applied?
  • What institutional support can they get and how do they inform their institution about what they want to do? Answers can be as simple as using connections between institutional executives and high-level government officials in the sector.

To push thinking outside the box:

  • PRB staff help teams think about what broad mission the research can contribute to that may engage a different set of stakeholders than the team usually engages with. For example, a team trained as chemical engineers may have research findings that would be useful for food safety and thus need to engage with professionals in agriculture and nutrition, but their networks are essentially professional chemists, not agricultural scientists or extension workers.
  • PRB identifies local consultants with relevant networks to help research teams think about the application of their research and how to find out what organizations in which sectors would be interested or to identify requirements for using new technology in their sector. In one case, published technical guidelines on cooling technologies were revised to make the research team’s innovation accessible to small farmers through existing government programs. In another case, the research team was able to contact a specific government-affiliated organization that it needed to oversee field testing before approving the research team’s new pesticide test for use.
  • PRB helps research teams apply what they learn about stakeholder priorities, programs, and authorities. For example, if their technology is being applied to green leafy vegetables, and there is top priority in government agriculture given to tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, can they demonstrate application of the technology to the priority crops? If not, it is not usually the best use of the team’s time to try to shift government priorities, so focusing on a different stakeholder may make more sense.

What’s next?

There is always room to learn and grow. PRB is working to expand our research utilization work through:

  • Building connections between research teams and creating opportunities for peer-to-peer learning about successful strategies and sector-specific tactics that can work in a variety of settings.
  • Continuing to support teams that we have already taken through the basics of the research utilization planning process. This process should be iterative, and regularly revisiting decisions in light of new information is necessary for maximizing results.

We love to see alumni of PRB research utilization work make an impact in their many sectors around the world. PRB is looking forward to creating more opportunities for gathering and sharing knowledge and accomplishments.