Rethinking Dissemination: How Nonprofits Can Reach a Broader Audience for Their Research
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Rethinking Dissemination: How Nonprofits Can Reach a Broader Audience for Their Research

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  • First, let’s take just a minute to talk about what makes nonprofit research unique. It may seem obvious, but I think it’s worth restating … unlike academic research or corporate R and D, nonprofit research requires an audience. Informs the work of advocates, policymakers, educators, and practitioners working in a specific field. Enhances the public’s understanding of complex social issues. Serves as a hook for building more general awareness around the issues we work on. Is your research reaching its intended audience? Keep that question in mind as we talk about online dissemination for the next 30 minutes. In order to really reach that goal we need to understand some basics about how dissemination has changed in the last couple of years. The fact is that …
  • As we well know, expectations around information sharing have been changing for some time. 1) Cultural shift towards more broadly sharing information and pooling resources, whether that takes the form of social networking, wiki’s, twitter, reality shows, or the call for increasing transparency in govt. 2.) Distributed information networks that require nonprofits to push their work into other environments. When information is increasingly shared through decentralized information networks you can no longer expect people to come to you for information. With limited time on their hands people use the information that is most readily available to them and that comes through local networks and familiar online spaces they can trust. 3) Of course directly related to this is the fact that we are less and less reliant on traditional media channels for information, especially as they are less and less apt to cover issues that matter to us. 4) And finally, there is a very basic expectation that content is free, easily accessible and easily digestible . Most people will not take the time to read a 40 page report and most likely will not pay for it. AT THE SAME TIME Most nonprofits lack the in-house expertise and/or capacity to effectively disseminate research in this new context. But of course it’s not just our audiences’ expectations that change. The tools and tactics available to us are also changing. New tools and tactics available to us, which require that we think about and do dissemination a little differently. Just as the initial emergence of the web required us to rethink our dissemination strategies, the emergence of web 2.0 has done the same. Our choice is whether to work with this new reality, or against it. This of course doesn’t mean that we all have to do everything. And it also doesn’t mean that we can abandon working on the fundamentals. Without the ability to effectively frame your issue or findings, none of these other tools will matter one bit. But that said, I do think that as nonprofits who produce (or fund) research we need to at least know that dissemination just doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.
  • I’d like to switch gears for a moment and tell you a little but about IssueLab, which was really born into the new context of expectations and tactics I just talked about. IssueLab’s mission is to help foundations and nonprofits more broadly share the knowledge they are producing and funding. Each year billions of dollars are spent on producing research in the nonprofit sector. Yet there is no easy way for grantmakers, policymakers, educators, advocates or practitioners to locate and access this work. IssueLab accomplishes this mission by: Archiving - We make nonprofit research more easily accessible by archiving and cross-referencing nonprofit research
  • We gather research that is normally scattered far and wide, tucked into foundation and nonprofit web sites, and bring it into an easy to use interface. One of the ways we do this is through what we call editorial CloseUps.
  • Secondly, IssueLab focuses its efforts on dissemination, bringing nonprofit research to new audiences as well as to those audiences who already rely on it but often on only a select group of organizations. We share that work with a broader audience through online dissemination tactics such as repurposing the collection for blogs and other online distribution channels such as listservs, news groups, twitter, RSS feeds, and online social networks.
  • Given that we have a limited amount of time and that you all aren’t necessarily looking for a new career dedicated to implementing online dissemination tactics I want to focus on some of the bigger picture issues that the examples I just touched on illustrate. How dissemination has changed … Traditionally dissemination worked in a couple of clear-cut and relatively centralized ways. Funders would (and most often still do) include some money in a research grant for dissemination. When the research is complete a report is generated and it is pitched to the media, through press releases and maybe even a press conference. (Media Outreach) Then copies of the report were distributed to key stakeholders, such as the board, donors, and policy contacts (Print distribution of executive summary) And maybe the report was presented at conferences and workshops
  • The web changed dissemination, but only to some degree. It changed the methods, but not really the way we think about dissemination.
  • But the emergence of web 2.0 in the last few years (and now web 3.0 on the horizon) has forced us not only to add new items to our dissemination to-do list, but also to change the way we think about dissemination. I am going to quickly take you through what I see as the basic principles of today’s online dissemination. 1) Push not pull a. If it matters that people see the work then the work has to be actively pushed out. b. This is necessitated by the fact that content production and distribution are less centralized than ever AND that no one space can claim an entire audience. For example: Getting a blogger to cover a recent finding on charter schools in the Chicago area translates into a permalink on that blog that then gets picked up by services like technorati, other bloggers, and search engines, while also being added to the bookmark lists of a decentralized readership. 2) Crafting your message so that its portable 3) Seeing your knowledge sharing efforts as part of an ongoing discussion
  • Reaching beyond your immediate social networks to reach the right people, not necessarily the most people. What do I mean by the “r i ght people ” ? Here are some basic tips. When you pick your target audiences - get as niche as you need to be. In keeping with our previous example, posting information about that same report on charter schools to a myspace group for middle school teachers is releasing your work into the right crowd. These are a group of folks you may have identified as an audience in the past but had no way to reach out to directly. Target groups for whom information sharing is a kind of social capital. Not to say that it isn’t worth sending your report to 300 individuals who are closely involved with your issue, it is. But when we look for crowds, look for groups where information is considered something valuable. This is the entire idea behind twitter! In fact many services that measure twitter efforts include a measure of how many times you share your knowledge with someone else, how generous you are with information, and how willing you are to share other’s people expertise through re-tweeting. In the world of Twitter, the information you have IS your social capital. So if you can get your research into the hands of what we call Twitter influencers, you are reaching the right crowd. The same goes for any kind of information maven – whether that’s the person who runs a listserv, manages a Facebook group, or works at the local community center. If you target the right crowds size doesn’t matter. Targeting a large crowd with interests that don’t overlap yours is wasted effort. Of course all of this requires that you have done the basic work of defining your audience, well before your dissemination efforts begin and hopefully before your report was even written. 5) But this work also depends on thinking about dissemination as a form of open publishing (some of the greatest challenges occur in relation to the cultural shifts that open publishing requires) a. Open licensing b. Letting go of control
  • You can see here how different tools, such as RSS feeds, social bookmarking, the blogosphere, or niche networks all contribute to the principle we have just discussed – helping you to get the research you produce or fund to the very people who rely on it to inform their own discussions and intervention strategies.

Transcript

  • 1. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Gabriela Fitz Co-Director, IssueLab [email_address] Rethinking Dissemination How nonprofits can create a broader audience for their research.
  • 2. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination Nonprofit research … Informs the work of advocates, policymakers, educators, and practitioners working in a specific field. Enhances the public’s understanding of complex social issues. Serves as a hook for building more general awareness around the issues we work on. Is your research reaching its intended audience?
  • 3. bringing nonprofit research into focus Expectations Are Changing Cultural shift towards sharing information and pooling resources. Distributed information networks that require nonprofits to push their work into other environments. Less and less reliance on traditional media channels for dissemination. Expectation that content is free, easily accessible and easily digestible . Tools and Tactics Are Also Changing IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 4. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 5. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 6. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 7. Traditional Dissemination Traditionally dissemination worked in a couple of clear-cut (and relatively centralized) ways. Media outreach Print distribution The presentation of research at conferences/workshops IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 8. Online Dissemination The web changed dissemination, but only to some degree. Electronic version of the report or even an interactive dataset Dissemination through eNewsletters Targeted email outreach to existing social network IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 9. Web 2.0 and Beyond Five basic principles of online dissemination 1) Push not pull 2) Crafting your message so that its portable 3) Seeing your knowledge sharing efforts as part of an ongoing conversation 4) Reaching the right people - not the most people 5) Thinking about dissemination as a form of open publishing IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 10. Web 2.0 and Beyond Relying on the Right Crowd Picking your target audiences - get as niche as you need to be. Target groups for whom information sharing is a kind of social capital. If you target the right crowds size doesn’t matter. Targeting a large crowd with interests that don’t overlap yours is wasted effort IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 11. Twitter RSS feeds Social networks Social bookmarking Blogosphere Publishing platforms Media eNewsletters Web version + Group 1 Group 4 Group 2 Group 3 Group 5 IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 12. bringing nonprofit research into focus How IssueLab can support dissemination efforts 1. List your research with IssueLab. Its free. 2. Partner with IssueLab to keep us updated about your research. When you create a contributor account on IssueLab you will see the option to partner. 3. Consider implementing IssueLab’s SubDomain service on your own web site to help you better manage your own online publications archive and to more easily syndicate your work (If you want to know more about this we can demo it for you.) Consider working with IssueLab on future research grants to support your dissemination efforts. IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 13. bringing nonprofit research into focus Upcoming Webinars October 1: Case Studies in Research Report Design October 22: How to Find Your Audience Online November 12: How to Make Your Research More Readable Online IssueLab Rethinking Dissemination
  • 14. bringing nonprofit research into focus IssueLab Gabriela Fitz Co-Director, IssueLab gabi@issuelab.org 773-649-1790