Here, Anna Taylor of SEI Oxford guest-blogs about her research into research communication and stakeholder engagement.
As part of our project to review and evaluate methods for engaging the public and key policy actors with scientific research, I have been looking at the work of some of SEI’s peers, other international organizations working to conduct research (particularly on issues relating to sustainability) and engage policy actors (very broadly defined) with the results of the analyses and their potential implications for decision-making.
3 key lessons we have drawn regarding effective and impactful research communications from looking at the work of our peers are as follows:
1) It is critical to distinguish between different stages in the policy process, to tailor the narratives developed from research findings accordingly, and to be realistic about the impact that a single research project can have on these policy processes, especially when it comes to policy implementation. This has both to do with the limited timespan of projects and the fact that knowledge, and scientific knowledge specifically, is only one of many factors influencing policy outcomes and in many cases is not the most important or influential factor.
2) Web-based tools for making data and information available in visually appealing and accessible ways and for communicating research insights are increasingly important and valuable but are not a solution on their own. It is critical that they are part of a suite of communications mediums and products, including ongoing investment in face-to-face engagements that build trust and personal relationships. This is particularly true in most parts of Africa, where internet connectivity is still limited and the capacity and experience of policy actors (both political and technical) in navigating and leveraging online resources is still relatively low.
3) It is important to use both quantitative and qualitative methods to gather the data and information needed to build a picture of research impact. Statistics on site visits, page views, document downloads, numbers of registered users / contributors, etc. are useful to show reach, while qualitative narratives on the ways in which different audiences / stakeholder groups are engaging with and using the information are essential for capturing and better understanding uptake and application.
An old, but still useful, blog from Research to Action lists ways of presenting complex data digitally.