How to improve your Research User Ratings

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How do you get your target users hooked onto your research output? Which tools are most eye-catching? How can you sustain interest, and help people absorb and learn from your work? What will really make an impact with a policymaker?

‘Research communication’ has been around for a while, and some  research centres shine at these skills. But capacity in many other  centres is only just emerging, and we all have plenty still to learn about optimising ‘research uptake’. The research centres participating in ELLA reflect this mix of abilities.

With this in mind, the ELLA programme has mainstreamed research uptake in its work, emphasising the engagement of target research users throughout the research cycle. At the outset and during the research, the advice has been: invest time with users to ensure you produce something they will want, co-produce with them, ask them for inputs – such as data – and get them to feedback on any interim results.

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But as the research output was coming on stream, we also ran an internal online learning programme, to take research centres through the main tools and processes for maximising the chances in the uptake and impact of that research – culminating in a Research Uptake workshop in Lima, in late February. Nearly 30 researchers and communications specialists attended from twelve Latin American and African countries.

We are taking three pronged approach in our Research Uptake strategy:

  • Use of the more standard ‘supply-push’ research communication processes – of the research products themselves, and their derivative policy briefs, infographics and multimedia – to reach out a to a ‘global audience’ primarily through digital means
  • A specialised component of ELLA: the use of all these products, and related material, in the core ‘curriculum’ of six online ELLA Learning Alliances, that will take professional peers from across the Latin American and African regions, through a programme of inter-regional exchange and learning. The Learning Alliances will be advertised in late March 2016
  • Each research centre also to conduct offline, face-to-face events (meetings, workshops, conferences), with key target users of the research, focused on policymakers, other decision makers and those involved in policy debates, at the country level.

The workshop lasted four days. We spent almost two days on setting up the ELLA Learning Alliances: on the shape and content of these, on developing the ‘curriculum’ outline and materials, on managing the platform, and on facilitating exchange and learning in online communities.

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But we also managed to get through a lot on the other channels and tools for research upatke. Here is a potpourri of key suggestions and best practice, taken from the interesting discussions and knowledge sharing that the research centres engaged in:

  • Rule one: know your audience – who are they, and how do they access and absorb information? Use those channels and methods to communicate with them
  • If you are going to use the infamous Policy Brief, again be clear about your main audience: will one format really work for “policymakers, practitioners and researchers” or are you speaking to yourself?
  • The key rule for policy briefs: get the first page right. If this fails, all else fails. Some might say, get the title and teaser right, or all else fails
  • Infographics are powerful and there are plenty of packages available to help, such as Piktochart, and Canva for more simple displays, or In-Design for the more advanced. But doing a good Infographic is not so easy, requiring a mix of skills: research, communications, design and technology, so plan whether to go in-house or to outsource some of the work
  • Five tricks for shooting an interview video (a) sound is number one, use (low cost) dedicated or directional, not ambient mikes (b) try three point lighting: main/key (the window?), side/fill (use a white board for bounce) and back lighting (a bulb) (c) frame the shot(s) to tell the story (d) use a tripod/rest with say two smart phone video cameras (these are good enough) (e) prepare your script – and shoot!
  • Editing videos is for the more digitally comfortable, but is a life skill, and cheap but professional packages are available such as VideoPad Video Editor.
  • One trick for general distribution of your research papers: find the Wikipedia page on your subject and edit it to include a reference and link to your research paper
  • Blog on others’ thematic blog sites to get your research out
  • Digital applications and packages are constantly evolving. Take advantage and support digital literacy. Eventbrite is a platform that makes organising an event a lot easier, for registering, name tags, reporting back, analytics and other add-ons
  • Video your events, and livestream them using for example YouTube streaming for those who cannot attend.

Such tricks can go a long way to helping disseminate your research, and to making it accessible to your intended target users.

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Mark Lewis

ELLA Programme Director

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