Knowledge Translation: The Missing link between African Researchers, Policy Makers and Practical end users of Research findings

Ivan is a pre-doctoral researcher at Makerere University, School of Biomedical Sciences, He is the country coordinator for TWENDE consortium
Ivan is a pre-doctoral researcher at Makerere University, School of Biomedical Sciences, He is the country coordinator for TWENDE consortium

Scholars and researchers world over have engaged in research as a constituent part of their career since the times of Isaac Newton. The willingness of these researchers to share their findings with the outside world was majorly the determining factor of how these findings were communicated.

It was not uncommon in the 17th century for research findings to be communicated in form of anagrams or in a way that is only decipherable to those who belong to the research group in question. This school of thought started to wane down when some scientists started to get entrenched in belief that science could only advance if there is transparent and open exchange of ideas among scientists.

This belief has been boosted in our times by the discovery of internet where anyone can search and get information. Scientists have thus come up with open access online journals where the public can access their research findings for free. This approach made scientists to supposedly think it will serve their ultimate goal of doing research; seeing their findings benefiting the practical end user. For scientists elsewhere in the world, this is somehow getting realized, in Africa, the approach is minimally functional. The question is why.

The reasons why Research findings in Africa are not benefiting  the intended end users are multifaceted, many of us will find it persuasive to point fingers at limited funds as the major (if not the only) factor that impedes consumption of research findings  in Africa. And this kind of convergent yet limiting thinking has derailed  our abilities  to come up with a holistic diagnosis of the root cause.

That is why six research institutions from East Africa (Makerere University, CPAR-Uganda Ltd-Uganda, Mbeya Medical Research Program, Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute – Tanzania,   Kenya Medical research Institute-Kenya) and one from Scotland ( University of Andrews) under an umbrella consortium  termed TWENDE embarked on a research investigation in  East African health care systems that aimed at unravelling the barriers to utilization of research findings and innovations  in an African setting .

The investigation aimed at identifying opportunities of addressing such barriers. In this research, the investigators used the utilization and uptake of modern Tuberculosis diagnostics technologies as a case study.

The investigation (its comprehensive findings will be soon published in scientific journals and policy briefs) established that the major stumbling block to research finding implementation in East Africa is actually ineffective or even complete absence of communication channels between the researchers and policy makers and not necessarily lack of funds.

Policy makers always wield the powers to determine the allocation of the National Budget, thus if they are not made to understand the benefits of clinical research and uptake of research innovations, such ventures will be given less priority. This explains the stark difference between the levels of uptake of research findings in Africa and those in developed countries.  In developed economies public and policy makers are substantially aware of the benefits of research and the uptake of innovations.

The approach to address this bottleneck is broadly encompassed into the ability of researchers to move research from laboratories, research journals and academic conferences into hands of people who can practically use it. This is generally termed “Knowledge Translation”. African Researchers can embrace knowledge translation in majorly two ways; They have to start speaking a language policy makers understand, this would imply shifting the paradigm from keeping their findings with in confines of scientific journals and writing them in jargons that are only understood by their research peers. We should start seeing scientific research findings being published in newspapers, tabloids, social network sites and radios and TVs hosting scientists to discuss their research findings.

The second approach will be perceived by many as rather a radical one, and this is to encourage and empower researchers to see through their research projects right away from the conception of  idea  to final implementation of the findings of their research.

This will effectively make them researchers cum implementers and whereas it stretches their scope of  work, it enables them to be in charge of the ultimate goal of their research intentions which is realizing their findings into practical solutions.  Researchers should start thinking about having their entrepreneurial start-ups.

They should abandon this   laissez faire approach of generating potentially innovative data and throw it in scientific journals hoping that some entrepreneur will find it and pick interest. They should become entrepreneurs themselves and actively participate in starting up companies or organizations that can foster their research findings into tangible products. A number of organizations have come up to help scientists become entrepreneurship knowledgeable. But as I said earlier, scientists should be ready to shift the paradigm.


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Ivan is a pre-doctoral researcher at Makerere University, School of Biomedical Sciences, He is the country coordinator for TWENDE consortium