Research, the diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover (new) information and make new conclusions, is critical for policy and decision making in all sectors of government. Research efforts in Zimbabwe’s water sector have been ongoing and have had steady growth over the years. What is not apparent is how the research is used and applied in decision and policy making for sustainable water resources development. One of the aims of the Water Scientists Association of Zimbabwe (WSAZ), through this blog, is to showcase and disseminate academic research findings in and around Zimbabwe, as well as promote the use of research to inform policy for sustainable water resources use and development.

A simple keyword search of “water” AND “Zimbabwe” on Scopus, an online research database, yielded 3,095 document results, showing steady growth from 1963 to 2020, with 84.2% of them being research articles, and the rest made up of reviews, conference papers, book chapters, etc. The document also covered a wide range of subject areas, with the biggest proportion being Agricultural and Biological  Sciences (20.3%), followed by Environmental Sciences (19.2%), Earth and Planetary Sciences (13.9%), and Social Sciences(13.8%).

Scopus Zimbabwe- water research document search

More research and innovation for sustainable use and development of water resources is indeed needed to understand the various biophysical, environmental, and socio-economic complexities of the water environment, and in turn to support evidence-based and scientifically sound policy making. However, academics, resource managers, and policy makers have traditionally worked in ‘silos’, leading to little or no utilisation of research findings in policy and decision making, as well as in practice.

There is a need for engagement between Zimbabwean water scientists, resource managers, and policy makers to improve the management of water resources for sustainable socio-economic development. Engagement with policy makers is one of many ways to achieve effective research impact. In addition, policy makers, decision makers, and resource managers need to be able to access research to make the best evidence-based policies given a certain context.

Increasing the accessibility of water resources research, accessibility to scientific evidence through engagement between researchers, is likely to increase the use of research evidence in policy and decision making. Accessibility of research needs to meet three main criteria for effective use in policy and decision making; i.e. physically available, intellectually comprehensible, and socially acceptable as valid. Physical availability refers to the ability to get a copy of an article or book; or having the technology or finances to access an online resource. While this is the simplest form of accessibility, it is by no means sufficient in and of itself. One needs to comprehend the research, highlighting the importance of how the research is communicated to different audiences. Social acceptability of research findings as valid considers how social networks and connections may influence research uptake, including but not limited to stakeholder engagement processes during research, co-production, and leveraging personal and/or institutional networks to increase the targeted reach of research.

The engagement between academia and policy makers will not only improve the use of academic research in policy and decision making but will also lead to more relevant research shaped by policy and development needs of the day. In addition, thinking about making research accessible can have important implications in academia for how research is shaped and shared, ultimately helping to inform better policy decisions in Zimbabwe’s water sector.