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Department of Geography


Understanding how research is put into use

The Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviations programme (ESPA) is a £40 million international research programme, funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The programme aims to deliver high quality, cutting-edge research that will improve the understanding of the contribution of ecosystems services to poverty reduction and inclusive growth processes.

In its aim to maximise the spread and meaningful use of research that is generated through its programme, ESPA has commissioned this study to understand the process of putting research into use, particularly within the context of the developing world. The project undertook a review of current and emerging practices of putting research into use, to distil lessons from experiences in different disciplines and sectors that may be relevant to ESPA.


  1. To review existing approaches for moving research into use in selected sectors relevant to the ESPA program;
  2. To identify best practice examples of research into use from these selected sectors;
  3. To identify key leverage points for the ESPA programme for maximizing the dissemination, uptake and use of research in different contexts.

Conceptual framework and methods

The conceptual framework guiding this study focuses on four inter-related dimensions which influence the ways in which research is put into use: the context within which the research-policy-practice interface is situated; the nature of research and knowledge generated, including diverse types and sources of information and data; the stakeholders and networks involved in putting research into use; and the communication strategies adopted by research stakeholders. More details can be found here.

The project undertook a structured review of the published literature, in order to address the question: What is the state of evidence regarding approaches for putting research into use for sustainably managing the environment and human wellbeing? The review found that there was limited published information on Research into Use in the peer-reviewed academic literature, although this has increased in recent years. More details can be found here.

Three case studies were chosen, to draw out key lessons for the Research into Use process (please click on the links for the case studies):

Key findings and lessons

Based on the review and case studies, the project identified a number of key findings and lessons for the research community, and for research funders. Details are available here, but the main insights from this work were:

  1. Building a body of evidence on research into use requires targeted incentives for researchers and research users.
  2. Impacts can take various forms; researchers and funders should consider a range of impacts when planning for and evaluating research outcomes.
  3. Unexpected (and unpredictable) trigger events can often provide opportunities to translate research into use.
  4. Dialogue and networking between researchers and research users is essential to identify knowledge gaps that are relevant to the work of practitioners, and to provide a focus for research into use activity. This often requires long time horizons, for both researchers and research funders.
  5. Research-use stakeholders may not prioritise peer-review as much as the academic community; inclusivity, ethics, credibility of the researchers and the relevance of the research may be equally important.
  6. Research impacts can often occur well beyond the time-frame of funded projects; researchers and funders need to find ways to remain engaged with projects over longer time horizons, usually beyond the period of initial funding for research. Expectations of immediate impact should be scaled appropriately.

Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme (ESPA) is funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC as part of the Living with Environmental Change Programme. ESPA is an international research programme, funded as a global public good and designed to produce world-class research and evidence to promote the sustainable management and use of ecosystem services to promote poverty alleviation.