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Communicating research findings

So why do we do research? To influence policy and practise for improved public health. Dr. Margaret Chan’s favourite motto was, “What gets measured, gets done.” If we have data, we’re going to make a change. To do this, we need to get the study findings to people who can effect change quickly. We need to communicate the findings in a way that grabs attention and is quickly understood. As Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for the Department of Health in the UK, says, “Research is of no use unless it gets to people who need to use it.”
In an initial step in doing research is understanding the study context, or the existing and anticipated demand for the research, as well as any key decision points that will occur during the study, such as the revision of the national public health policy. It is also identifying the policy and practise impact that you want to achieve and understanding your audience. That can be done through conducting stakeholder mapping. And you will have heard about that during steps in week 1. Once you’ve completed those steps, you will then identify how we will communicate and engage with different stakeholders.
This could be through collaboration during research– for instance, partnering with disabled persons organisations throughout the study– or setting up an advisory group or steering committee to provide technical support to help ensure the research and its outputs are credible, rigorous, and relevant for the context, or use networks to engage different audiences across a number of sectors, such as disability, health, WASH, education. After you’ve completed the data collection and analysed the findings you need to work out your key messages. 3, 4, or 5. But no more than A4. Now reduce them into one paragraph. And now reduce them into one sentence. Hammer them home repeatedly. Here are a couple of examples.
Approximately 1/3 of people with disabilities and 1/4 of people without disabilities included in the case control study reported experiencing incontinence– urinary or faecal– at least three times a week or more. Now, this is a key finding. But it’s quite hard and– it’s complex and hard to remember. People with disabilities were twice as likely to experience incontinence as people without. This is shorter, more striking, and memorable.
Tailor your research products to meet the needs and preferences of the user. What do you want each of your stakeholders to take away from this study? Consider who will oppose your messages, and why. Take steps to mitigate this. What will motivate your research user? How will you package that information so that it will be most useful for them? For example, policymakers will be motivated by the science. Give the big picture first and the detail after. Grab attention with statistics. And then explain the human impact with quotes. An infographic is a way of doing this. Another group are practitioners. They won’t need all the theory.
They will want something they can read quickly and absorb, something that will help them improve their practise. Checklists, for example. Keep documents short. Use simple language that can be easily translated into different languages. A member of the public might be motivated by a human interest story. So for example, using art, dance, and drama are good ways to raise awareness and effect bottom-up change. In Vanuatu, The Rainbow Theatre group are a group of people with disabilities who perform plays about their own experiences and promote disability rights.
World Vision Vanuatu worked with the Rainbow Theatre to develop a skit that captured ICEDs key findings, study findings that were relevant for community members, and then went to different towns and villages to enact the drama. This self-portrait was directed by Tulasa, who has a self-care limitation. And it was in a study on disability menstrual hygiene management in Nepal. She took this photo to show how inaccessible toilets limit her independence. And the caption for the photo that she chose was, “When I have to use the toilet, I need someone else to help with the latch. Otherwise I can’t do it myself.” So this image and her own words can be more memorable than a long report.
Translate your findings into a variety of products for your different stakeholders. You can repackage a peer-reviewed article into practical guidance, or a short policy brief, a film, and use content on radio programmes and teaching courses. But how do we get coverage? Some questions to consider are is it original? Is it surprising? Have people heard the key messages before? Dog bites person is obvious. Person bites dog is more surprising. Is there new data? A report with a new statistical figure is far more likely to get media coverage. For example, the World Report on Disability, published by the WHO in 2011, got covered on CNN, BBC, Guardian, and many other media outlets because it led with a new statistic.
15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. In the past, the accepted estimate was 10%. And then, is it relevant? A timely response to a contemporary crisis will grab attention. So for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are more likely to be found in warmer times of the year, is increasing due to global warming. So this study, compounding effects of climate warming and antibiotic resistance, is relevant to COVID-19 and climate change. So very current.
It’s not just about good evidence. It’s about effective evidence. Think about charismatic ideas, which is a concept discussed by Kath Smith in Beyond Evidence-Based Policy and Public Health. Smith draws together two research projects– one that explored the relationship between health inequalities research and policy in Scotland and England, and the second study, which examines use of evidence by tobacco control advocates and the tobacco industry in their efforts to influence policy. Both studies had a good evidence base. But the tobacco control had more success persuading policy makers to make the required changes. This is because the tobacco control looked at a single issue health problem. It also had one charismatic idea. Ban smoking in public places.
This call to action was obvious, doable, and measurable. Policy makers could easily engage with it. And the goal motivated people. The health inequalities research had a range of complex solutions to reduce inequalities including taxation, structural change, housing. It did not offer a coherent message or an alternative policy vision for policymakers. So it had more limited, impact.
Always consider accessibility when you’re developing research products. Make materials visual, text light, use simple language. Don’t use acronyms. Use large font, high-contrast images and text, print materials on non-glare paper. Use sign language, audio, braille, captioned media. And distribute materials to reinforce messages for people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities, such as visual books, flashcards, or posters, with simple key messages.
Across the people working on your research, including participants, allocate tasks, roles, and responsibilities for communicating and engagement activities. Consider who should present the findings. This photo is of a person who participated in photovoice. Here he’s showing his photos and explaining his experiences related to WASH in Vanuatu to policymakers and practitioners. If you’re presenting a sensitive topic such as menstrual hygiene management, would a man presenting and talking about it openly encourage others to start a conversation? Make use of the media. At a photo exhibition, source a journalist to cover it. Then share the article through Twitter. Target stakeholders with tweets. Consider which events, workshops, webinars, seminars, conferences that you can present your findings to.
In summary, we do research to improve public health. So we need to get the study findings to people who can effect change quickly. We need to grab people’s attention and present them with charismatic ideas that they can engage with and that will motivate them to act. In this presentation, we’ve discussed ways to achieve that.

In this step Jane Wilbur gives an introduction in to an important topic – communicating research findings.

There is no point doing research, unless we can disseminate the findings, and influence the change we intended to make. As you heard earlier in the course, when planning a research study, it is important to consider a dissemination/communication plan from the outset, thinking about how you want to get the findings to and how you are going to do it.

Jane talks about messaging and research outputs, tailoring these to make the findings more memorable and useable for different audiences. She also discusses the importance of making the research accessible for people with different needs (e.g. sign language, braille, large print).

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Global Disability: Research and Evidence

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