How to Communicate

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Success of your research in terms of impact it has on forming public policies or in terms of attention it receives from public depends to a large degree on how good you are in managing communication around it. It is indispensable that your research planning also includes getting the right communication plan in place.

Designing communication plan

There are four key aspects in communications planning:

  • Defining communication goals. It is necessary to be specific and clear about communication goals, and to ensure that they are measurable and that their achievement (or non-achievement) can be assessed after some time.
  • Understanding who are your community and stakeholders. Knowing who you want to talk to is important and requires more than just knowing who they are. This entails knowing where they are in the Web 2.0 sphere, what tools they use, what information is most relevant to them. It is also important to think about the route which our message has to take in order to reach our intended community . Sometimes this means that we have to include in the communication loop also some intermediaries who are likely to take key messages to their final recipient, which is true twice if we are targeting busy and 'important' people hidden behind firewalls of full agendas, secretaries and advisers.
  • Clarifying the message/s. Rich and substantive research has plenty of information. Very often, researchers tend to overload their communities with too much information, thereby making their communication efforts futile because the community is unable to process all of the information. In other cases, the requirements of academic community lead to a tendency that researchers use jargon or level of complexity understandable by other researchers, but not by outsiders who do not need to know the history of theoretical debates to understand the key points of a research and their implications and to respond to them on time (We are not talking about “dumbing down” the research, just communicating it better and encouraging more links between researchers and policymakers). In the Web 2.0 context, it is also important to note that the messages do not all have to be statements. Rather, think of questions and issues you would like to raise because the more discussion you will be able to generate the more attention you will draw to your key findings (and the more valuable feedback you can get).
  • Selecting Communication Tools and Channels. This aspect of communications planning requires two things: understanding the tools that will allow you to relay your messages and get feedback from your intended community; and understanding the tools that are relevant to your community and your goals. There is a plethora of available Web 2.0 tools that will allow you to collaborate with your communities and stakeholders on the issues you are working on but if these tools are not relevant to the members of your community (if they are too hard to use, or if they require too much time to use), then they may not be appropriate.

It is necessary to flesh out and address these issues. This can be done with a workshop over a few days, but often a good start can be made by simply sitting down and answering a few questions that lead to having a clearer idea of the relevant communication channels and tools for specific communities.

Following are couple of examples of questions one might want to answer for themselves when planning the communication strategy...

  • What do I want to achieve with my communication (strategy) and why? What should be the “real life” outcome of this work?
  • How can I later verify my communication efforts had the right effect?
  • Who I need to get my message to? What are these people like? How they work with technology and with information in general? How are they mutually networked already (friends, colleagues, don't know each other....)? Who they listen to most? Whom do I need to approach one-on-one, and whom I can include into wider communication loop with others whom I consider important recipients of my information?
  • How complex can be the information shared with individual stakeholders? Are they subject experts? Do they have time for anything more than just key headlines?
  • What are the key points of my message that I need everyone to understand? What do I need answers to? What are the controversial issues or questions that are likely to get people interested and make them react?
  • What online tools are likely to make all this happen?

Developing policy briefs

Essential part of efficient communication strategy must be development of policy brief(s) based on your research findings. Policy briefs are documents designed in such a way that they are maximally accessible to policymakers and, at the same time, they provide enough detail and evidence that policymakers who are not subject experts can build their argumentation on them. As described in ODIs comprehensive guide on developing policy briefs, the key elements of a well designed policy brief are the following:

  • Evidence
  • Persuasive argument
  • Authority
  • Policy context
  • Audience context specificity
  • Actionable recommendations
  • Engagement
  • Presentation of evidence-informed opinions
  • Clear language/writing style
  • Appearance/design

For detailed guidelines on how to develop a good policy brief, refer to mentioned document.

Data visualization

Another key element of communication strategy are appropriate formats in which important research findings are delivered to different audiences. While statistics and academic jargon might be appropriate to share findings with colleagues from researchers' community, simplifications, analogies and visualizations of data are needed to present complex data to media, public, or stakeholders involved in policymaking processes. Web 2.0 tools can help with that. Main strengths of these tools are ease of sharing and their inclusiveness, and so they directly lend themselves to facilitating design and sharing of such easily digestible visual representations of complex scientific data.

Visualizations can't be ignored by modern researcher. Although they usually work with simplification, a well made interactive graph or map will have much stronger impact on your audience then exact statistics. It can help to make your key audience understand your point quickly and when you need it. It can also achieve that your findings circulate and spread with the same rocket speed with which any other catchy information circulates on social networking tools. Paying good attention to visualization of your data not only makes it generally more accessible, but it is also indispensable in order for your research to harness all potential of Web 2.0 sphere.

Most common visualization formats are:

With exception of infographics, most visualizations can be designed as interactive, embedded into a website, shared via social networking tools etc. For example, an interactive timeline can allow user to click onto a specific point on the timeline and bring up data for that particular moment in time. There are some excellent guides for data visualization techniques, as well as plethora of examples that can give you inspiration for visualization of your own research data.

For an overview of available data visualization tools, see Section 4: Data visualization tools.


Table of Contents of the iGuide

1. Introduction

2. Basic Communication Strategy and use of Web 2.0 Tools for Evidence Based Policy

3. Section 1: Political Context

4. Section 2: Evidence

5. Section 3: Links

This iGuide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Impact 2.0 is a project of the Fundación Comunica with funding provided by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), IDRC.jpg Ottawa, Canada.

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