So I’ve spent a long time doing this piece of research. Now what? Is it just a matter of writing something? Or is it more than this? And are all publications the same? What more could I do?
This blog will lay out a basic framework for thinking about how research findings are communicated. However this framing is just a heuristic.. that is, it’s simply a way to help think through what might be done. (As such, it’s not without issues and tensions and I will take some up in later blogs. That’s the health warning!)
There are three overlapping ways in which research results can be shared. The first is dissemination, the second is public engagement, and the third is knowledge mobilisation (or what is called impact in the UK).
Each of these requires different kinds of writing but also different kinds of knowledge and skills.
Dissemination is – ‘I tell you’
Dissemination is the most common way that research is shared. It’s usually through publications which can either be academic (read mainly by scholars) or professional (read mainly by people in the relevant field of practice). Each of these ‘types’ of publication – academic and professional – can be further divided into open access or subscription. But dissemination can also be effected through conventional media – print and television – and via online media such as blogs, facebook and twitter.
Different audiences have different expectations of publications and it’s important to understand these and be able to write in different ways for different purposes.
The most important questions to consider in relation to dissemination are:
• Who do I want to read my work?
• What do they read? What are they expecting?
• What do I need to produce for this audience?
• What kind of writing is this?
• are they more likely to listen or watch?
• What new skills and/or knowledge might I need to reach this audience?
Public engagement is – ‘let’s have a conversation’
Public engagement takes place in settings and events which have been specifically designed to produce a dialogue. Lectures , conferences and seminars are often more about dissemination than conversation and they are often only to and for academic audiences – but they don’t have to be. They can be more about interaction and can be with interested groups or the general public. Other places/times where conversations might occur are in public events held in community and organisational settings and sessions in galleries and museums. There are also events which are deliberately set up to provoke conversation, Café Scientifique and Philosophy in the pub style. Conversation can also occur in synchronous and asynchronous chat and webinars.
Again, different audiences have different expectations, in this case about what makes a good conversation. There will be particular expectations about the language that is used and the way in which people are able to take turns. It is important to know what these are.
The most important questions to consider in relation to public engagement are:
• What can we talk about?
• How should this conversation be staged?
• Where should it occur?
• What needs to happen to make sure that it is a dialogue?
• What could get in the way of this being a conversation?
Knowledge mobilisation is –‘how can research be used’, or putting research into an actual situation to see how it might be taken up – but also how it might change.
Knowledge mobilisation always requires a partnership and a setting. It might take the form of consultancy, or the provision of policy advice. It could be through being an expert adviser to projects and performances. It can be through joint Research and Development activities (action and participatory research may fit well here) or as some kind of designed activity such as the development of curriculum or professional learning programme. It might be helping a partner solve a problem or invent something. The take-up of recommendations/practices/ideas generally has a traceable trajectory – or an evidence trail – so that there are ways to see how it is that research has been put to work.
Different partners and settings require different kinds of skills, but good communication and negotiation are always going to be important in any work of this kind.
The most important questions to consider in relation to knowledge mobilisation are:
• Who is likely to use my research?
• Do I have the kind of relationship with them that makes it likely that my research will be useful and used?
• Is what I have already done enough – or do I need to do more in a practice environment?
• What kinds of protocols do I need to develop around partnership work?