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Open Access Terminology and tensions within evidence-informed decision-making in South Africa over a 15-year period

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In this article, we examine a key premise underlying evidence-informed decisionmaking (EIDM) – that research is for all, including service users and potential users, service providers and a wide range of decision-makers, from those running local services to national government officials and international agencies. Qualitative data collected on terminology used when writing and talking about EIDM over a period of 15 years during the implementation of a number of capacity development programmes in South Africa were combined with critical reflections in practice. Findings reveal that tensions exist in the titles and terminology used to describe the relationships between academia and government or between research and policy, and that these tensions have shifted over time, but not necessarily diminished. An analysis and critique of this terminology is provided to identify and unpack these tensions, which challenge the central premise of 'research for all'. The perpetuation of divisive labels that profile people, of job titles and specific terminology that describe agency, as well as the use of technical language, continues to exclude people from the approach. These have the effect of setting up users against producers of evidence. In conclusion, we challenge the advocates of the EIDM approach to review language and terminology to be more inclusive, to enable relationship-building and ease the process of engagement to ensure evidence-informed decision-making is true to its premise that research is for all.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2017

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  • Research for All is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on research that involves universities and communities, services or industries working together. Contributors and readers are from both inside and outside of higher education. They include researchers, policymakers, managers, practitioners, community-based organizations, schools, businesses and the intermediaries who bring these people together. The journal highlights the potential in active public engagement for robust academic study, for the development of involved communities, and for the impact of research. It explores engagement with different groups and their cultures, and features theoretical and empirical analysis alongside authoritative commentary to explore a range of themes that are key to engaged research including the development of reciprocal relationships, sector-specific communication and participatory action research. The journal is co-sponsored by the UCL Institute of Education and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

    Research for All is supporting the 16th International conference for Public Communication of Science and Technology being held in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, 26–28 May 2020. Authors of contributions presented at the conference are invited subsequently to submit papers to Research for All for a special feature on Public Communication of Science and Technology.

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