Plan early, cost appropriately, communicate regularly
For many scientists and innovators, getting together a research dissemination and engagement plan is a crucial part of any grant application or research project. For those writing their grant application, this section of a grant application can often be seen as a box-ticking exercise. In many cases, the usual 4Ps will dominate by default – posters, presentations, publications and press releases.
Often, it’s not until later on in the research project that the need arises for a slightly more nuanced approach to communicating the project and it’s findings. And don’t forget shiny things like videos, infographics, podcasts and public engagement training.
What is a research dissemination plan?
A research dissemination plan will help you to get the findings and outputs of your research to the citizens, professionals or policymakers who will use the information in their daily lives, to guide professional practice, or to inform policymaking.
Developing a research dissemination plan early on will support you to maximise the value and impact of your research.
Fund your dissemination activities through research income
Communicating research can be a costly endeavour. Cash-strapped University departments don’t tend to have core funds squirrelled away for outreach or research communications. Administrators may tell you that your research budget will need to take a hit, or the activity unfortunately can’t go ahead (and I’m writing from bitter experience here!).
Some researchers choose to go it alone when it comes to dissemination, while others will invest their funds wisely in specialist strategic communications support, so their outputs are delivered professionally.
Engage stakeholders throughout the project
For research with the potential to influence policy or practice, funding panels can look at whether there is scope for the project to engage with particular audiences (like policymakers, lay publics, professionals or other communities of practice) and how the project’s research dissemination plan could support that.
Investing time during the grant application stage to brainstorm a full research dissemination and engagement plan can mean that everything you really want and need to do is:
- sufficiently resourced and costed,
- planned ahead and achievable,
- and most importantly – designed to support the overall goals of the research project.
Additionally, looking for opportunities to carry out dissemination and engagement throughout the research project, rather than at the end, can provide ongoing opportunities for dialogue and feedback. This can yield rich insights about the implications of your research findings on key community groups, potentially informing how they are framed when it comes to the publication stage and the all-important press release.
Consider internal as well as external stakeholders in your plan, and look for opportunities to discuss your ongoing work with others in your department or outside of your faculty.
Seven simple steps to develop your research dissemination plan
Every research dissemination plan is specific to the project, its goals and audiences. It needs to be needs based, so don’t lead with the shiny things and plan around them – press releases, podcasts, infographics etc. Adopting a framework approach, based on the seven steps below, can help to structure discussions about what to include:
1. Objectives: What do you want to achieve?
Set out the purpose of your dissemination efforts as a series of goals or objectives. Consider whether you are trying to simply share knowledge, shift an attitude, change a behaviour, or create a community/network to engage with.
2. Audience: Who do you want to reach?
Brainstorm everyone you need to reach and engage with. This may include your head of department, research funder, policymakers and end users. Prioritise your audiences, identifying those who are key to achieving your goals. Also include anyone you may need to work with or through to reach your key target audience.
3. Situation: What is the broader context for your research?
Consider the broader context for your research, for example, what do your key audiences already think, feel and do about your topic area? Are there any social or political issues at play? This may require some research but it will help to ground your activities in reality and ensure your messaging is relevant.
4. Messaging: What will you say?
Formulate key messages that align with your objectives and communicate your research in an accessible and engaging manner. Ground your messaging in real-world relevance – what does your research mean to people? You might find you have different messages for different audiences.
5. Your overall strategy
Good strategies align directly with goals and audiences. They describe your overall approach. Let’s say you’re looking to share knowledge with a mass audience, then you might decide to opt for an approach that centres around media relations. On the other hand, if you’re looking to shift attitudes or inform policy or decision making, then invest time discussing your work with a niche audience.
6. Tactics: How will you deliver your strategy?
This action plan includes the nuts and bolts of your dissemination plan. Activities will be linked to your research project milestones with details of who will deliver what, when and how much it will cost. Crucially, getting an idea of costs at this stage means you can add this detail into your grant application so your activities are appropriately costed. And bingo, affordable!
Download my free action plan template below!
7. Evaluate: How will you measure success?
Outline how you will measure success against each objective. Consider both the outputs of your dissemination efforts (such as a press release achieving coverage in a target publication) and the outcomes (such as a follow-up conversation with a key stakeholder about a new research collaboration). Review these throughout your research project, if something isn’t working then adapt your plan. It should be a living and flexible guide.
Planning early gives you the best possible chance of getting your wish list funded, and gives your team a roadmap for communicating and engaging with stakeholders throughout your project.