In Section 3C, we focussed on the institutional mechanisms, resources, offices and staff who are best placed to support researchers with research uptake management and the planning and delivery of research uptake services in each of the four main stages of your research cycle – from scoping to planning to implementing to legacy. In this section, we hone in on one aspect of research uptake activity – communication – in which there is a particular overlap of responsibilities between the researchers themselves and the professional staff and research management office at your institution.
As discussed in Section 3C, one of the main pitfalls for research uptake is not that there is a real institutional dearth of expertise in getting research to end users – rather, the process of knowing who to talk to and where expertise lies can be bewildering, and it is often unclear where chief responsibility for different aspects of research uptake is really situated. This is certainly true of research communication. On the one hand, the researcher is better placed than anyone to explain the purpose, the hypothesis and the findings of the research and what the context is relating to the wider body of knowledge and the potential application of the research in other settings. This means that communication of research, at all stages of the project, is a key responsibility of the research team itself. On the other hand, there is a refined, professional skill-set that is needed to translate knowledge for other audiences, to join up findings with the right audiences and to spend the time and resource on what is essentially “non-academic” and highly professionalised work.
This means that your Knowledge and Adoption Plan, as discussed in Section 3B, will need to articulate very clearly where responsibilities lie and what support you can expect from your Public Relations, University Press, Marketing, Research Management and Extension or Public Engagement offices. With science communications often managed by one or more of these offices, what are some key principles you can put into practice as a “researcher-communicator”?
Marina Joubert, of Southern Science in South Africa, is a leading authority on science communication and engaging research findings with non-academic audiences. Parallel to this Research Uptake Guide for Active Researchers and Research Managers, Marina has also designed a Research Communicators’ Guide for African Universities, which will be an excellent source of good practice in the field. Although the overall purpose of the Communicators’ Guide is to upskill professional science communication staff, there are nevertheless some key principles that researchers and academics will want to apply to their own communications with partners, stakeholders and public audiences. In particular, please take a look at this A-Z list of communication principles to help frame your approach to communicating with non-academic audiences.
Alongside the Communicators’ Guide, you will find a host of resources and guidelines expressly designed for researchers on the DRUSSA Learning Resource, hosting on the ACU web site. Some key examples of resources to consult and discuss follow here:
This IDRC- and SARUA-backed publication for the Scholarly Communication in Africa (SCAP) programme at the University of Cape Town, Seeking Impact and Visibility: Scholarly Communication in Southern Africa is an extensive and in-depth investigation of scholarly communication practices, policies, and key considerations, accounting for a range of institutional and national environments. Though perhaps principally geared towards research managements and professional science communicators, the wealth of background here will also be of interest to academics looking to understand the different institutional and external policy dynamics to consider when setting about dissemination, communication and engagement.
Things to think about
What characterises your experience dealing with journalists about your research? If you have significant experience, what would you advice an early career researcher looking to connect with the media for the first time? And, if you are an early career researcher, what do you feel attracts you to or inhibits you from making contact with journalists – and can institutional support services help?
Things to do
Revisit the Stakeholder Maps you designed and discussed as part of Section 3B, and imagine you have secured a chance five-minute conversation with one of your key stakeholders (especially one who you have scored low on Relationship). Taking on board some of the literature included above in 3D, what are the main principles you’re going to have in place to guide your explanation of your research area and how it can improve people’s lives?
This DRUSSA guideline for research communicators can support internal university training and induction for research communication professionals, and can be used by active researchers as well in the design of research communication plans
This groundbreaking online news and analysis web site not only draws on academic expertise in crafting its stories, but invites academics themselves to communicate their research to a non-specialist audience, with the support and assistance of professional journalists. The Conversation’s charter sets out it’s vision, including to: “inform public debate with knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence; unlock the knowledge of researchers and academics to provide the public with clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems; and create an open site for people around the world to share best practices and collaborate on developing smart, sustainable solutions.” An excellent resource and platform for any academic looking to communicate with new publics.