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Research for Impact: Communications approach

What is research for impact and what does this mean for communications? Here's a few points and principles discussed among Sitra's strategy & research unit.

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Research for Impact: Communications approach

  1. 1. Research for Impact Justin Cook, Tiina Heinilä 05/2014
  2. 2. Tutkimus Tools & Methods • Part 1: Research for impact • Part 2: Thinking & Communicating as synthetic actions • Part 3: Why? Communications that present early signals of findings, build anticipation, build coalitions prior to publication • Part 4: Precedents • Part 5: Tutkimus communications principles and practices; integrating with comms unit
  3. 3. Research Landscape: Situating Sitra Pure/Basic Research: increase stock of human knowledge e.g. Academy of Finland, Universities, etc. Applied Research: solving practical problems for state, business, clients e.g. Tekes, Nokia
  4. 4. Research Landscape: Situating Sitra Pure/Basic Research: increase stock of human knowledge e.g. Academy of Finland, Universities, etc. Applied Research: solving practical problems for state, business, clients e.g. Tekes, Nokia Research for Impact: new or contextualized knowledge and solutions for society, government, business e.g. RAND, Brookings
  5. 5. Research Landscape: Situating Sitra The objective of Sitra’s research function is to support or challenge its prevailing strategy and help its staff and external partners achieve impact. This requires two modes of inquiry: 1. Basic research where no knowledge yet exists 2. Contextualizing and/or applied research where knowledge or solutions exist, but are not yet directly applicable or useful to local stakeholders Sitra’s research function sits at the intersection of basic research and applied research in the tradition of think tanks, but with the rare organizational capability and responsibility to execute projects and make investments.
  6. 6. Research for Impact Research for impact has special OBLIGATIONS: • Demonstrable contribution to identified challenges • taken up and applied by policy makers and practitioners • via project, outcome and impact objectives (Sitra steering panel) • Research questions are designed for one/more types of impact: • Conceptual: better understanding of issues • Instrumental: influencing development of solutions • Capacity Building: new institutional/individual capabilities Research for impact has special PRIORITIES: • Active identification and engagement with stakeholders • Opportunistic and timely (applied to implementation & comms) • Early theory of benefit to stakeholders
  7. 7. Research for Impact: what does this mean for comms? Getting complex messages across in competitive environment: • Finding a point of difference & clear statement of perspective • When starting new projects: Who cares? Why? Need to get the right piece of information into the rights hands, at the right time, in the right format: • Can’t expect people to come to our platforms for content Output of a research project can be much more than a PDF: • Clever content creation instead of broadest possible dissemination
  8. 8. Part 2: The Synthetic Act • The division between communicating and thinking is a false dilemma supported by organizational structures. • Evidence: Global thought leaders on a variety of subjects are doing their thinking and communicating simultaneously and in real-time via a variety of platforms. • The strategic research team’s long term goal should be the removal of traditional organizational barriers between communications and research so that the two activities happen at the same time and in a synergistic way.
  9. 9. What could this mean in practice? Communication throughout the lifetime of a project: • Constant flow of outputs and ideas, not just infrequent if weighty reports Is impact of a single research publication enough to inspire and motivate our audiences? • Who reads reports? Really, who? • Tools like infographics, multimedia presentations, blogs, podcasts and videos the new norm for think tank research Worth remembering: comms is not just media comms
  10. 10. Part 3: Why Add More Work? Communicating throughout research process will: • Promote awareness (socialize new ideas) • Test relevance (novelty, timeliness, utility) • Share early signals of promise (prototyping/feedback tool) • user engagement at all stages of research • Build coalitions around research topics (giving stakeholders the information to self-identify their interest or via referrals) • Coalitions are the key to achieving impact • Build a general audience that will anticipate future research
  11. 11. Part 3: Potential Downsides • Burden of regular “reporting” • Evidence of efficacy may be a year away • Exposure to negative feedback from public & stakeholders • Outside of normal practices/comfort zone for researchers
  12. 12. And how, exactly? Media: • Greatest engagement & website traffic still after major coverage • Build close relationships with individual journalists, keep them in the loop, and then deliver when you have genuinely important studies. Know your media audience. Digital: • Digital ‘elevator pitch’ to all research – putting message into 140 letters / 60s videos! • Infographics, blogs and videos more likely to get picked up than research reports • Strategic social media comms in developing useful following
  13. 13. Part 4: Precedents • Development, Impact and You Toolkit (Nesta x Rockefeller) • • Comms portfolio: Notes, Case Studies, Events • Helsinki Design Lab • • Comms portfolio: Week Notes, Field Reports • The Governance Lab @ NYU • • Comms Portfolio: Digest, If Only We Knew, SCAN
  14. 14. Precedents for think tank comms: the Do’s & Don’ts For relevance & impact, we need to tap into day-to-day discussions and have opinions: • Establishing our staff as experts to media • Most common mistake: wanting to have impact without courage for argument (also: unrealistic expectations) Breaking key findings into bite-sized content that’s easier to digest • Putting numbers in our findings, making lists • So many options: infograph, animation, video, datavine, buzzfeed, gamification, podcast, photo presentation • Remember: expectation for think tanks to be bold & surprising
  15. 15. Integrating research and communications: key points • What’s the role of a researcher, and of a communicator? • Building mutual trust: quality of research not jeopardised by communications • Communications tail wagging the dog? • Greatest impact when research and comms work together from the start of the project • Researcher’s work not done when report finished: marketing & making sure the message reaches right audience incredible important, if ofter overlooked, part of the project • Can’t be emphasized enough: knowing EXACTLY what your product is and audiences are
  16. 16. Part 5: Tutkimus Communications Principles: • Communications are integral to research for impact • Tutkimus Communications will sit alongside content • Communications will be published regularly with rotating authors (not done in spare time) • Communications are not intended to be comprehensive or complete, or necessarily novel • Expectation of 1+ years to build an audience • Social media is the linkage between audience and content