Last week our work was runner up in the category of ‘Outstanding International Impact’ at the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council annual Celebrating Impact award ceremony. I had to go to London to receive the award (a trophy and some money that we will help keep the research going). They even made a slightly embarrassing film about the work that you can see here. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Council, and they are keen to demonstrate that research they invest in has an impact.
Over the years, we have received several grants from the ESRC for our work in Zimbabwe. The core of our work that became the book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, was funded as part of a regional project led by PLAAS on livelihoods after land reform. More recently the ESRC/DFID grant for the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development (SMEAD) in southern Africa – also led by PLAAS – allowed us to expand our case study sites to Mvurwi, and continue work in Masvingo. Indeed, my UK Research Council funding goes back much further – to my PhD work in Mazvihwa communal area which started a shocking 30 years ago.
Long-term research and engagement leads to impact, and in our work since 2000, it has been this ability to track changes since the land reform that has allowed us to generate deep, textured, longitudinal data, and so a rich evidence base to engage with debates about the impacts and consequences of land reform. The prize money we won last week will help keep the work going – now in Masvingo, Mvurwi and Matopos.
The prize committee really liked the range of ways we have communicated our work. Impact emerges from engaging with different audiences through a range of channels. Our outputs have included conventional academic material, such as books and journal articles, but we’ve also put out our material through other routes. This blog has been especially important, and has helped update the research, challenge misinformation and generate debate. I am continually amazed how many of you read it each week. There are now over 190 blogs on the site, and last year there were over 40,000 views. As readers of this blog will know, there have been videos that have allowed us to present findings in a different medium, and these have been widely viewed in Zimbabwe and beyond. And also we’ve produced a set of booklets, including one in Shona. This has allowed the work to be debated in the villages where we have worked, with reading circles formed to discuss them. It’s this diversity of formats that really helps create debate and dialogue in a whole range of fora.
After all the hard work, we are naturally delighted to be recognised in this way. Although rather focused on me in the ESRC publicity, this is of course a team effort. The field team, led by BZ Mavedzenge, but also involving Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene and many others, has been at the centre of this work. BZ, Felix and I have worked together now continuously since 1990, when we were working in Chivi with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department for Research and Specialist Services on a project on risk, that became the book ‘Hazards and Opportunities’. It has been an immensely productive working relationship and I feel immensely privileged to have had this opportunity.
For now, I will keep the blog going, and I hope all readers will celebrate with us, as it is a recognition that research, when done thoroughly, over a long time and is communicated well, can really make a difference.