The findings of the AURA background study in southern African universities, "Building Research Capacity: EnablingCritical Thinking Through Information Literacy in Higher Education in Africa" (Hepworth, Mark; Duvigneau, S. IDS. 2012), documented the realities of a burdened faculty with heavy teaching loads and little practical time to undertake any research activities. The findings of the study are applicable at Strathmore University, especially in bringing staff into the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA)programme, as it can be difficult to get commitments from staff who already feel over-burdened. As the project coordinators (PCs) for AURA at Strathmore, we had two options for enlisting participants: a formal process and a targeted approach.
Formal process: pros and cons
In the formal process, the management direct the faculty to participate in the programme and are required to brief the appointing authority on their progress. The advantage of the formal process is that the recruitment of participants is simplified and there are usually a good number of participants in the specific programme. However, the downside of this formal approach is that it does not tap into the intrinsic motivation of the participants, hence the personal commitment of the participants may be lacking. Occasionally, the organizers of the programme events may have to keep appealing to authority for participant mobilisation.
Targeted approach: pros and cons
In the targeted approach, faculty are offered the opportunity to participate in the programme on their own volition. This is done by arranging open fora where faculty are inducted into the programme and those interested then sign up. The advantage of this approach is that those who sign up are usually self-motivated and are more intensively engaged in the project. The downside is that the number of participants may be lower than anticipated.
Targeted approach at Strathmore
We opted for the targeted approach having carefully considered the deep level of commitment in time and involvement from the faculty demanded by the AURA programme.
The targeted approach requires a continuous level of personal engagement with the individual faculty to retain enthusiasm among the participants and to grow the number of participants to a critical level. Personal engagement implies: managing the different levels challenges that create barriers to effective participation of busy faculty. For example, scheduling events properly, effective time management, clear actionable communications amongst other factors. In effect, as the PCs for the AURA programme at Strathmore, this targeted approach required both of us to take on the role of champions of AURA to encourage and foster the personal engagement and enthusiasm of faculty and to enlist participants. For us, this approach was the better of the two options as it meant free to respond to the programme needs as required without involving an authority unnecessarily.
The lessons from the Strathmore approach to enlisting participants as outlined above highlights the benefit of the role of champions who can keep the interests of participants alive without necessarily appealing to an authority. The role of champions is a critical role because it is a key way of engaging individuals’ interest once an intervention has passed in the on-going programme and for building a critical mass of support within an institution.
Stephen Ng’ang’a and Cavin Opiyo are based at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya.