The Research use and Impact Assessment (RIA) Unit was established as part of the organizational restructuring that was implemented in 2010. The primary purpose of this restructuring was to ensure better alignment between the HSRC’s Research Programmes and the nine primary challenges facing the country – too few people work; the quality of school education for black people is poor; infrastructure is poorly located, inadequate and under-maintained; spatial divides hobble inclusive development; the economy is unsustainably resource intensive; the public health system cannot meet demand or sustain quality; public services are uneven and often of poor quality; corruption levels are high; and South Africa remains a divided society (National Planning Commission, Diagnostic Report, 2011).
A secondary purpose of the organizational restructuring of 2010 was to enable the HSRC to better contribute to addressing the ‘grand challenges’ identified in the Ten- Year Innovation Plan (DST, 2008) – specifically the ‘human and social dynamics in development’ grand challenge. Ones of the desired outcomes for the Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) grand challenges was that by 2018 South Africa would be recognized as a ‘knowledge hub’ in social sciences research in Africa. The grand challenge also identifies the encouraging of the better use of social science and humanities research evidence in government policy making as one of its key performance areas.
The vision and mission of RIA: The centrality of knowledge brokering
The vision of the Research use and Impact Assessment (RIA) unit is to contribute to a prosperous, healthy and just society that uses research evidence to improve the quality of life of a people who are all well informed, actively engaged and passionate about civic matters/public policy.
RIA is a cross cutting unit in the Office of the Deputy CEO: Research that seeks to extend and enhance the use and impact of scientific research from the HSRC and other sources of research, and manage the HSRC’s relationships, reputation and brand. In the context of structured and enabling business processes we add value to the core business of the HSRC which is to co-produce output from basic and applied research, inform public debate, and provide evidence-based policy advice. As knowledge brokers we have both an internal mandate (within the HSRC) and an external mandate with respect to the research-policy-action nexus. RIA consists of the following sub-sections Science Communication, HSRC Press, Corporate Communication and Stakeholder Engagement, and Impact Assessment – all of which are approached as both areas of professional practice and areas of research.
In pursuance of it knowledge brokering strategy RIA seeks to ensure that its activities address and fulfil the following ten characteristic of knowledge brokers identified by van Kammen, de Savingny and Sewankambo(2006, 609).The ten characteristics are:
a) Organising and managing joint forums for policy makers and researchers;
b) Building relationships of trust;
c) Setting agendas and common goals;
d) Signalling mutual opportunities;
e) Clarifying information needs;
f) Commissioning syntheses of research of high policy relevance;
g) Packaging research syntheses and facilitating access to evidence;
h) Strengthening capacity for knowledge translation;
i) Communicating and sharing advice; and
j) Monitoring impact on the know-do gap .