I have worked in research organisations for the past few years, and working with researchers has become mainstream to me as a communicator, and research projects and outputs have become an important component of my work. Conducting research and analysing data follow well established protocols and processes to produce data and results, but what happens to the information? Sometimes it is left unread on someone’s hard drive, stacked on a shelf in a library, or otherwise not shared.
It is my conviction that this is where communicators can really make a difference, and where our talents and skills can help make a project shine.These are some thoughts based on my experiences.
Getting inside the research process
Interpreting information shows the effectiveness of communication and the capabilities of a communicator. Conveying complex information to diverse audiences based on their needs and level of understanding is an important part of this process.
I try to following this process to ensure that the right message is conveyed at the right time to the right audience:
Ideation Stage: A research team often begins by conceptualising an idea (either based on a request from a funder or independently), and it’s important for the communicator to be part of the team. For example, in some of our projects a stakeholder might provide a list of deliverables that will be required during the course of the project, such as an Inception Report or report on results. If the communicator is onboard right from the start to learn, understand, and develop appropriate communication outputs, it will result in higher quality case studies, interviews, and photographs (to assess the before and after situations, based on the research issue).
Tip: Being involved in research conceptualisation has helped me to ‘read’ the mind of the researchers and team to better understand the ‘so what?’ of the research.
Preparation Stage: Reading, conducting a literature review, and designing research methodology are the bases of research. For a communicator it is important to know the nuances of each of these steps, as it will help them to understand the basic approach, the need for, and sometimes the type of research that will be embarked upon. Knowing all of this background and context will help the communicator to customise outputs, and to write accurate and meaningful opinion pieces, commentaries, and policy briefs.
Tip: It is also good to know and understand the techniques that the research team will use, such as questionnaires, interviews, or observations.
Interpreting Data Stage: A crucial stage for a communicator. While the research team analyses and interprets the data, a communicator is required to convert the often complex and technical data into clear and simple visuals and language to make the data easier to understand for a wider variety of audiences, including those with little or no technical knowledge of the subject. Once a report is completed, there will often be an opportunity to (re)interpret the data, unpacking the information to suit different audiences and stakeholders in the media, government, academic institutions, etc. A communicator can also play a crucial role by editing the document, checking that appropriate language is used, and ensuring clarity (for complicated and technical data) by adding helpful visuals.
Tip: It is said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’; I would like to add that it is worth much less than a word, if it is superfluous and not related to the content under discussion.
Since the main purpose of research is to inform action, the role of a communicator can be crucial to ensuring that research does indeed lead to action. We should always remember to focus on why rather than what, and make an effort to encourage the whole team to answer and agree the ‘so what?’ and ‘who cares?’ questions. In short, a communicator typically helps to effectively share the research work with a wider audience, including the general public, which can generate a spinoff effect with funders and other stakeholders when they see their agenda rise in importance.
In short, a communicator can help create appropriate presentations, provide training on best practices in communication, and, most importantly, influence and guide/work with researchers through all the stages to ensure that quality outputs are developed and disseminated ‘at the right time to the right audience’.
So the answer to the question in the title is an unequivocal ‘Yes!’.