So you’ve written the research report: what else do you need to do to ensure people actually read it?

September 25, 2014 23 By Duncan Green

Remember the old days when you wrote a report, published it (perhaps with some kind of executive summary), did a couple of seminars and then declared victory and moved russian-dolls2on? Social media have changed that game almost beyond recognition: to maximize impact, any new report more closely resembles a set of Russian dolls, with multiple ‘products’ (hate that word) required to hit different audiences and get the message out. I’ve tried to list them, but am bound to have missed some – please fill in the gaps:

  • The report: 100 pages of well researched, clearly argued, and insightful thinking. Which (apart from other researchers) hardly anyone reads.
  • The Overview Chapter: 10-15 pages with all the juice from the report
  • The Executive Summary: A two pager for the time-poor
  • The landing page: better be good, or people won’t click through
  • The press release, with killer facts, notes to editors, offers of interviewees, embargo times and all that old media mularkey
  • The blog post: a way of alerting your particular epistemic community to the existence of your masterpiece
  • The tweets, although personally I hate those naff ‘suggested tweets’ you get from comms people.
  • The infographic: if you want to get retweets, these work much better than text. ODI currently the most infographic-tastic of development thinktanks
  • The 4 minute youtube piece, preferably not looking as knackered as Matt Andrews often does

Please add any layers I’ve missed.

If this seems like a huge amount of work, you can always just rely on word of mouth to get your paper out and about. But even when added together, all the comms packaging surely only amounts to a tiny proportion of the work that goes into the paper itself, so it would seem to me to be worth adding every bell and whistle you can. (On the other hand, has anyone got any evidence for the extent to which the packaging improves take up? Time for an RCT perhaps – randomly select some papers for the full treatment, and see what happens?)

Of course, this is only one small part of ‘research for impact’. What you actually say and how you say it, the topic you choose, the rigour of your research, the governance of the project (eg sneakily involving target individuals/institutions from early on) and timing (best to (re)publish after a scandal, crisis or general meltdown, when decision makers are looking for new ideas) are probably much more important in determining whether anyone takes any notice of all your hard work.

Update: lots of good comments below, thanks also to Robert Watt for linking to a great article on the ‘wonkcomms‘ site, which argues that thinking of research in terms of ‘artifacts’ is the start of the problem. Better questions are a) What outcomes do we want from our research? and b) How can we project our research as a thread for continual engagement? Smart.