For research to have an impact on society, dissemination and public outreach is seldom enough. Researchers also need to influence those who can put that knowledge into a better practice. Here are eight tips how.
IDEAS: Science Communication
New research does not create value for society before it is translated into innovative new practice. This can take the form of better decisions, better policies, smarter ways of doing things, or new products and services.
Universities, university colleges and other research institutions are doing a lot of great work spreading the results of research and making it known to a wider audience. Researchers are trained in writing and communicating their research in a language that newspaper readers can understand.
This training provides visible results in the form of feature articles, editorials and media coverage, mostly in traditional media. At the same time, the Research Councils in Europe works with universities to ensure that everyone has free, open access to research.
From research to better practice
If research is to be incorporated into existing practice, it is necessary that research is readily understood and accessible. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Research must also be communicated in a way that it is perceived as relevant and interesting to those who can put the knowledge into practice.
If new research is to contribute to a better way of doing things, traditional one-way research communication from researchers and institutions must be supplemented with two-way and multi-way research communication.
The word communication comes from the Latin, communicare, which means «to make something common». If we are to succeed in making something common, we must draw those who can apply the knowledge into both dialogue about the research as well as participating and looking for possible practical applications of the research. It is not enough just to publish research results.
Strategic tool for putting research into practice
Science communication cam be a strategic tool for making research both understandable, relevant and interesting for those who can use the knowledge.
The goal of effective science communication is to contribute to making a better society, not only getting as much publicity as possible in traditional and online media. Publicity still has its value, but as an indirect channel to those who can actually put the knowledge into practice.
In recent years, the UK has changed its funding model for research. As much as a one-fourth (25 percent) of basic grants for research depend on the institution being able to prove that outstanding research at the institution has resulted in concrete changes in society, so-called «impact».
Here in Norway as well, talk is increasing that we must become better at translating new research-based knowledge into better practice. So far, there has been more talk than concrete action.
What can researchers do to contribute to new research-based knowledge being translated into a better way of doing things?
Eight pathways to Impact
May I be so bold as to suggest eight ways researchers can change the world for the better, at least a little.
- Talk about your research when starting new projects and request input. Traditionally, we have looked at research and dissemination as two isolated activities. First, research must be peer reviewed through scientific journals. Then through public outreach we can spread the results and hope something happens. Alternatively, we can imagine science communication as an integral part of the research process. This perspective can for example lead to inviting practitioners to provide input that can improve the research and make it more relevant. You will also build a network among whom you can share results.
- Give advice on research applications. Don’t settle for just publishing results. Point out the possible practical implications of the study. What can your research be used for? Give practitioners advice on the possible applications of the research.
- Arrange and attend physical gatherings between researchers and those who can apply the knowledge. New ideas and applications are often born in personal discussions between researchers and those who can put the knowledge into practice. Invite practitioners to suggest topics for breakfast meetings or other types of gatherings. Then the programme can provide research-based answers to the challenges experienced by the practitioners. Set aside plenty of time for discussion.
- Establish a network of practitioners. In order to increase the chance of new knowledge being translated into better practice, make it a habit to involve those who can benefit from your research.
- Share and talk about your research in social media. You build a professional, digital identity through blogging and sharing your knowledge on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. If you regularly share knowledge, these pages will rank high on Google. When managers, politicians, journalists, those funding research, students and anyone else is searching for answers for what they are wondering about, you increase the chances of your expertise being discovered. Through social media, you can also communicate with those who can put your knowledge into practice.
- Creative multi-use gives you increased impact. If you have had a feature article published or written a good article communicating your research, you can use the same content in different genres among various channels aimed at different target groups with just a bit of adaptation. A feature article can also be posted on your blog and shared in other social media. You can bring up the topic in a breakfast meeting. You can make a podcast, post a video on YouTube, or you can make an educational game.
- Offer courses and seminars to translate knowledge into better practice. The Learning Environment Centre at the University of Stavanger, for example, offers a comprehensive programme of courses for schools and day-care centres that gives advice on how research and experience-based knowledge can bring about a better learning environment.
- Tell good stories. What can we learn from them? Find examples of how research is put into practice. What was done so this was able to happen? What can we learn from these success stories?
Do you have other examples and ideas on how we can make Science more impactful? Looking forward to hearing from you.