We all know that providing information does not equal change. But it’s part of the process. As researchers, we can chunk and package and share our findings and recommendations in ways that make them more accessible. I like to call this edible evidence. And, if we’re really good (i.e., we’ve done some thinking about what we want to accomplish), we do just a little bit more research to figure out what chunks and packages and media/venues our key audiences prefer.
Case in point: The Global Impact Study. Our findings our emerging, slowly. Now we want to get them into the hands of people who make decisions about public access: Do we invest? Divest? How do we design our program? What rules should we put into place?
I expect that policymakers, donors, and program designers have a lot to consider when making decisions. But we’d like to make sure that the evidence we’ve generated is part of the mix. Question is: Which formats work best?
What do we know? IDRC’s Policy Community Survey
In 2011, IDRC’s Think Tank Initiative released the Policy Community Survey. Focusing on Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, the study gathered the views of senior-level policy actors to ask about their needs for research, perceptions of research quality, and impressions of think tank performance. Here’s who they talked to:
The report includes the survey instrument. (THANK YOU. I really love it when researchers do that! Framing matters and I want to see how you did it.) Questions included:
Overall, how would you rate the quality of the current national policy making process in [YOUR COUNTRY]?
In your current direct or indirect involvement with national policy making processes, what types of information do you require?
What format(s) of information exchange is most useful to support your involvement in national policy?
For that last question, respondents could pick up to three items from this list:
Databases / statistical data banks
In-person events / Face-to face-meetings
Online forums / discussion boards
Consulting/advice from individual experts
Other, please specify: _________________________
I wonder if anyone mentioned social media, blogs, infographics, or data visualizations for “other”…? Sometimes I really hate surveys.
It’s interesting to look at how the US IMPACT Study decided to package their findings. Of course the project scope and context is really really different: They’re dealing with one country, and their own country (read: better understanding of culture and policy processes). Still, in addition to publishing reports, note that they created a toolbox for advocates. They packaged research findings into formats directed at decision makers.
Back to the Policy Community Survey findings. Here are the results of the above question in a handy figure:
And here is part of what Frank Tulus, our friend/colleague/client over at IDRC, highlighted for us to follow-up on or consider in our communication and dissemination strategy. Emphasis is mine.
In terms of the types of information exchange found most useful, interestingly most still find print publication and reports to be most useful, followed by databases and statistical databanks. The study also indicated that the policy stakeholders felt there is a lack of access to reliable and trusted primary data sources.
What is actually surprising here is that the least effective way identified for exchanging information with policy stakeholders is actually the use of policy briefs. The study didn’t go into much detail on the reasons, but I’m wondering whether this is also due to the nature and quality of policy briefs typically received by these stakeholders.
Policy & donor people: Does this jibe with your preferences? If not, what would your list look like?
Research communicators: What do you think of this? Would this change your strategy?
Me: Really? People are still not over the expensive, glossy report? Do they have any idea how much that costs to produce? And no visualizations or social media? Wow. I recently wrote a blog that has led to some really great discussions with decision makers (see the comments section). And briefs?! Those are like my ultimate weapon. I’ve found that I get the most response from briefs, so this has me puzzled. Maybe my template is just really awesome :)
Help me out here, folks.
Global Impact Study early findings
I asked Melody Clark to pull together early Global Impact Study findings. Here they are. OPEN RESEARCH CAVEAT: These could change, and there’s not much of a narrative tying them together.
Based on three surveys of 1,250 venues, 5,000 users, and 2,500 non-users, we’re learning that:
Public access venues make a significant contribution to digital inclusion and development
Public access is the only option for access for many users — only 28% of users surveyed have access at home
Over 40% have used public access for employment and income purposes
Of those who use public access to look for jobs, 91% applied for a job. (Great follow through!)
95% of users surveyed said that using public access for communications & leisure has improved their overall digital skills
Even episodic use, such as searching for health information, is impressive. Around 30% of users search for health information, and considering that in many countries health information may not be widely available online, this is a large number.
Almost 80% of people report positive impacts on education from using public access venues.
Public access complements private access — people still use public access even when they have a computer at home
For those who do have access at home, they still frequent public access venues for a variety of reasons, including better equipment, faster connections, and being around other people
We also did seven in-depth qualitative studies, using focus groups and one-on-one interviews with users and operators. The findings from these can guide program design — rules, infomediary characteristics, mobile phones. Examples:
Even for those with the “internet in their pocket” (on their mobiles) still use public access. Mobiles are co-present, rather than competitive or a substitute for public access.
Playing games on computers often leads to more and better “instrumental” and employable digital skills. Big deal since games are often not allowed. (My son Liam is going to love this. It’s been his argument all along.)
Along with ICT skills, users value empathetic skills of venue staff, such as being understanding, flexible, and personable.
Now onto packaging these awesome nuggets…
Checking in with our stakeholders
So lately I’ve been checking in with public access decision makers to see what works for them. Some of the questions I’ve been asking:
Information: trusted sources and habits?
How do you get your information?
Do you actively search? Where?
Who do you talk to?
What events or meetings do you attend?
Who or what do you follow (newsletters, social media, other…)?
Knowledge gaps / interests?
We’re thinking to do a series of topical one-pagers. Topics might include:
The effect of gender on impact
Free versus fee
Does this appeal to you? What other topics would you add to this list?
What are your favorite formats?
Do you prefer to be sent a publication, download it, or view it as a website?
Do you like it when you can review visuals or tables seperate from the text?
Conferences (which ones do you attend?)
What am I missing here? Who has done some next-level knowledge mobilization lately? Stuff you’ve actually used?