User awareness 'crucial' – Research4Life study

Share this on social media:

Image: Theeraphong/

Research4Life programs make a significant positive difference to research experiences in low- and middle-income countries – but only when users know they are available and how to use them.

This is a key finding of an independent Research4Life user experience review conducted during 2020 using a combination of interviews, surveys and focus groups by INASP across a range of countries and institution types: the findings will guide Research4Life’s future work in reducing the knowledge gap between researchers in industrialised nations and those in low- and middle-income countries.

The user review is part of a set of in-depth evaluations that inform the Research4Life Strategic Plan: these include an internal infrastructure review as well as a landscape analysis, which thoroughly assesses the external context within which Research4Life operates.

Since 2002, Research4Life has provided researchers at more than 10,000 institutions in over 125 lower- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 132,000 leading journals and books in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information. We do this in partnership with organizations in the fields of scholarly communications, technology and international development: WHO, FAO, UNEP, WIPO, ILO; Cornell and Yale Universities; the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers and more than 180 international publisher partners.

Key findings

  • Relevance. Interviews, focus group discussions and survey responses all confirm that Research4Life is a relevant resource for users who are aware of it, have had appropriate training for it and have infrastructure to support it. For these individuals, the non-availability of Research4Life would leave a significant gap.
  • Effectiveness. Access to a wide pool of trusted research information is essential for well-informed and up-to-date research and teaching materials. Survey findings indicate that 97 per cent of people who used Research4Life rated it as very valuable to their career.
  • Impact. The evaluation findings point to real positive impacts of Research4Life: 87 per cent of respondents report that the programmes improve the quality of their publications and 78 per cent agree it improves their quantity.

'Through this study we heard many positive stories about the impact of information access through the Research4Life programs but we also encountered many people who had little or no awareness of Research4Life. It was also striking what a positive difference to usage and experience we saw when there were local champions of Research4Life,' said Siân Harris, communications specialist at INASP and one of the lead researchers in this study.

'Our goal is for the User Review to help us and the wider Research4Life community to address the gaps in awareness and user experience so that more researchers, medical students, policymakers and others can benefit from this critical resource. We especially want to thank INASP and all those involved for equipping the partnership with this excellent evaluation tool and fascinating study,' said Ylann Schemm, chair of the Research4Life executive committee and director of the Elsevier Foundation.

Recommendations for Research4Life

The findings underscore the critical elements that will  contribute to the successful integration within researcher workflows, allowing Research4Life to better meet users’ research access needs. In particular, building awareness, communication and community will be a key factor in raising visibility – especially when complemented by national-level support. Reconceptualised training, with the expansion of current MOOCs and webinars, will also be instrumental for effective usage. Finally, addressing gaps and sudden changes in content, as well as underlying technical constraints and offline accessibility, will further enhance value to the user

These findings and recommendations were supported by a cross-section of Research4Life stakeholders at a workshop in 2020. Participants particularly highlighted the need for a theory of change to define a shared set of goals and roadmap for Research4Life and the importance of building further awareness.

The user review will be submitted to the Research4Life General Partners Meeting in June 2021 for formal adoption, and will inform decisions on the long-term strategy behind Research4Life’s program development, content expansion, user training and support, and technical upgrades.