Making your research accessible

How to communicate success through your research case studies

By 7 October 2013

Earlier this year we explored why case studies are a bridge to influence. Researchers who work in development will always hope to engage, inform and inspire. Communicating clearly the impact of your research is vital if your ambition is to effect change through evidence. Writing a compelling and evidence-rich narrative on the success of your research is a powerful tool for achieving this, providing you follow some simple principles. These ten points form a checklist to help you tell your impact story more clearly.

  1. Provide a short, concise description of the research objectives and main findings. Don’t shy away from dealing with less positive experiences encountered during the research process. This is good background for the reader and promotes better understanding of the challenges faced. It is also important to explain how the research builds or improves upon earlier knowledge.

  2. When dealing with potential impact within the case study, it is important to clarify who has already benefited and how. What numbers of people benefited and in what ways did the improvement in wellbeing occur. Give a brief summary of the research results and what was achieved. Try and identify one statement or “killer fact” that illustrates the actual or potential impact and the importance of the research findings.

  3. Explain where the research was carried out and how the findings of the research have been communicated. Indicate where findings and reports have been published in the public domain and any information regarding citation rates.

  4. Were there any indirect beneficiaries? It is important not to overlook indirect beneficiaries when evaluating the impact of a project or programme. There are people not directly involved in the research but could include communities, advocacy groups, NGOs, businesses, think tanks and even policy makers.

  5. The capstone of the case study is the actual or potential impact of the research. Ask yourself if there is sufficient evidence to back-up or corroborate the claimed impact of the research. If so, explain what the extent of the impact was in terms of numbers and type of people, organisations, and institutions, etc. who have benefited from the research. Avoid exaggerating the impact of the research or making unsubstantiated claims.

  6. It is important to convey the potential reach and impact of the research over the long term. If you can, include an assessment of scalability or other contexts in which the findings are applicable.

  7. If your research has had impact on policy processes, decision making or has provided other actors with critical evidence, be sure to support your claims by making this prominent within the case study. Think about what made the research successful and try to identify the main factors behind the success. Did the uptake of findings contribute to this success? It is worth analysing uptake routes and strategies retrospectively to help make your case. Were there any changes that led to improvements in uptake?

  8. Case studies and policy reports often fail to explain why the research or its findings are novel (or interesting!). Don’t make this mistake. Be bold and explain what makes your research original, new, innovative and interesting.

  9. If you have direct quotes from beneficiaries and stakeholders, use them. This adds a critical human interest element to your case study.

  10. Finally, don’t forget to identify all partners to the research and acknowledge who the funding bodies and donors were.

Remember, clarity and verifiability are essential. When writing your case study, make sure the reader can quickly grasp the key facts through a coherent and compelling narrative. Attention should be given to ensuring claims about impact are backed up appropriately and consistently throughout the document.

Further reading:

Why case studies are a bridge to influence: A super-quick guide by James Harvey (R2A)

Identifying ‘possibles’ for your impact case study by Patrick Dunleavy (LSE)

How to write a policy brief (IDRC)

What counts as good evidence (RURU)

  • mogden24

    Good list of 10 on creating case studies. Yes results is the capstone. Summary and quotes help get the reader into the case study and make it a pleasurable read.