Making your research accessible

Capturing and using effective information exchange patterns

By 22/11/2009

Few logframes effectively capture all – or even many – of the ways in which researchers are exchanging information. The absence of this element results in high strategic losses to research projects. Without planning to ensure that all members of the project are clear about when and how they are contributing to different parts of the wider communications strategy, then many – particularly younger and less experienced researchers – will not be able to make the most of opportunities. Equally disappointing is that during evaluations research projects will not be getting credit for much of the good communications work that they do, because it is not captured in the planning, monitoring and evaluation reports.

A new report from the Research Informatin Network (RIN) and the British Library tracked how life sciences researchers exchanged information, and what implications this has for research funders. Although it did not look at research in international development – which has its own additional communications challenges – Patterns of information use and exchange: Case studies of researchers in the life sciences highlights many findings that are common to all research. They found a great deal of information exchange going on, but also found that different fields of research have distinct patterns of exchange, both formal and informal, and that these patterns are intricately structured – the report describes them as ‘baroque’. No simple linear or cyclical structure prevailed. The authors’ key conclusion is that ‘the policies and strategies of research councils and information service providers must be informed by an udnerstanding of the exigencies and practices of research communities if they are to be effective in optimising the use and exchange of information, and in ensuring that this is scientifically productive and cost-effective’.

RIN is about to fund a second series of case studies that analyses in detail how humanities researchers discover, use, create and manage their information resources. It will aim to:

  • develop an in-depth understanding of humanities researchers’ approaches to discovering, accessing, analysing, managing, creating, refining and disseminating information resources;
  • provide comparisons between the behaviours and needs of researchers in different subjects/disciplines, research teams or institutional contexts; and
  • identify barriers to more effective performance in using, creating, managing and exchanging information resources, and suggest how they might be overcome.

Given that information exchange works so differently in each field, it is hard to imagine how research councils can respond to the needs of researchers until those researchers are able to describe effectively their own patterns – what they look like, how they work, and why particular areas are more effective in influencing policy than others. What would an investment in understanding and mapping your own project’s or field’s patterns add to the creation of a meaningful and effective communications strategy, and the logframe objectives and indicators to go with it?