Making your research accessible

How to survive and thrive in the ‘knowledge pond’

By 07/12/2010

Geoff Barnard (CDKN) opened ‘Improving the impact of development research through better communication and uptake’, an AusAid and UKCDS-sponsored workshop that took place in London 29th and 30th November, 2010. His keynote presentation focused on how to survive and thrive in what he called the ‘Knowledge Pond– the community of practice associated with knowledge sharing and research communications.

This community has grown threefold since the mid-nineties, with donors and other organisations keen to understand the value of making knowledge and research travel: a focus that Barnard describes as ‘long overdue’.

He continued by describing how the initial approach to research communication was focused on the production of policy briefs, and although there was a realisation that different types of audiences existed, and differentiated communications approaches would be required to mirror these, the communication process was a linear one.

In stepping back and looking at this community today, it is clear that huge advances have been made. The emergence of the internet has opened up a whole host of new communications approaches, and in consort with web 2.0 tools such as blogs, You-Tube and twitter the internet has created a demand for instant knowledge. This has in turn helped reinforced calls for open access journals, and which has finally began to make some progress.

The Linear model of knowledge sharing and research communications has been superseded. Participation and engagement are now central to knowledge sharing, and this has not just come about through advancements in the ‘read, write web’. Knowledge sharing practices have evolved through experiences of best practice, and time and time again is has been shown that engaging with audiences, situating knowledge in their contexts, and listening to their concerns is a far better approach than the top-down model.

Knowledge sharing and communication professionals now inhabit a much more crowded workspace than 15 years ago. There is more noise, more competition and more strategic thinking needed to make your knowledge stand out and be heard. However, this community is far better networked than ever before. There are opportunities to build knowledge-brokering relationships across the globe. In other words, there are new opportunities, as well as challenges.

Many of the challenges today are the same: they include diversifying and building the communication and knowledge management skills of researchers; securing proper funding for engagement and outreach; convincing research organisations to plan knowledge-sharing strategies from the outset; expanding researcher ambitions beyond publication through peer review journals only; and considering publication through open access platforms.

A relatively new challenge we need to add to this list is the ability to show the impact of knowledge sharing and communication activities. Three things have to happen to ensure we can do this. First, donors must allow provision for effective monitoring and evaluation as part of project funding; second, there must be a clear understanding that changes does not happen over night; and third, there is a need for experimentation and innovation in the approaches used, because change can be very difficult to measure.

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