December 18, 2018
Five Keys to Effective Knowledge Mobilization
Communication is king. Period. Whether you’re in sales and marketing, business administration or research and design – communicating the importance and impact of your work is critical to success. While some roles and tasks – take sales for example – emphasize the importance of effective communication, other roles – say academic research – tend to emphasize the importance of technical skill and proficiency. That’s not to say communication isn’t viewed as important, but it’s often not the primary skill set required to be effective at the job. However, in today’s day and age, it’s not enough to be just a skilled researcher. In order to thrive in a competitive and often crowded funding environment, it’s important that we learn how to share and mobilize our work to our end-users. Today, we take a look at the top five things to consider when communicating research to your audience.
What’s Your Story?
Let’s face it, while scientific writing is useful to evaluate methodologies and critically assess results, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to easily transferring information to the reader. One of the most effective ways to share information is through a story. Stories are part of our culture and our evolutionary progression as a society; they convey important messages and provide context, advice and guide behaviour through real-world examples. Our brains are wired to receive information this way as children – so take advantage of this and view your role as an an engaging storyteller… no longer just a scientist.
Who is Your Audience?
It is critical to write with your end user in mind. Who does your work impact? Can anyone use the research and directly benefit from it? Once you’ve identified who you’ll be communicating to, you need to understand their needs, preferences and characteristics. Marketers would say you need to develop a ‘persona’ for your target audience – that is, a common set of characteristics (e.g. wants, needs, challenges, mindset) that are held by an average member of your audience. What are their interests? How and when do they access new information? What are their current barriers to using knowledge? Effective communication is all about tailoring messaging to your end-user, so start by thinking about who and what your end-user actually is and wants – this will help to engage them in your message!
What’s Your Message?
Now that you know who you are talking to, it’s time to focus on the what and the why. It’s important to first establish your ‘why’ – are you trying to promote awareness, motivate change, inform or inspire, educate, engage? A clear why allows you to crystallize your message, along with the tone, format and approach you take to conveying that message. This also helps to tailor your message to target your audience so it resonates with who you are speaking to. A clear and concise message is best. Consider making the message personal to that group or relate it to something they can use in their day-to-day lives – stories, or even case studies, are a great approach! By keeping the language, terms, and concepts to those that they know and understand, you will ensure your main message remains clear and your goals can be met.
Which Medium Will You Use?
Variety is the spice of life! And in today’s fast-paced and plugged-in environment, the print-based fact sheet is no longer the only option – magazine articles, fact sheets, infographics, podcasts, social media, video, gifs, webinar, seminar, workshops, oh my! When it comes to receiving new information, multiple methods and formats are the way to go. You can create products (reports, fact sheets, toolkits, newsletters), host events (conferences, forums), or form networks (CoP, social media, online forums). Much like your message, your medium must be tailored. So, how does your end-user like to access new information? What format do they want it in? Who should the message be coming from? Younger demographics may be comfortable with receiving information through social media or video, while older demographics may prefer more traditional approaches (e.g. workshops or fact sheets). Don’t assume that preferences are consistent across demographics – you must consider what can be effective at getting your message across, what resources you have at your disposal, and what is required to execute the vision.
When Will You Share?
It’s also important to consider the best times to share your message. What time of day? What season is best? When does your audience seek out information, and when are they too busy? What about your timelines for producing your materials? Good communication tools can take time, so don’t wait until your results are final to start preparing. Communication plans, brainstorming sessions and fact-finding discussions with members of your target audience can all be done while your research is ongoing and will help to inform the development of your tools. A goal without a plan is just a wish! So take the same systematic approaches you apply to your research methods and think through the steps necessary to communicate effectively.
What’s Your Impact?
And finally, it’s important to evaluate your methods and gauge how successful you were at reaching your audience with your message. Your evaluation will depend on your goals and medium, but they can include reach indicators (number of downloads, reads, shares, etc), usefulness indicators (satisfied with, gained knowledge, changed views, etc), use indicators (number using the information), and many more! By knowing what went well and where you can improve, you can better reach your audience in the future and create a larger impact.
These are some of our top tips for effective communication, but remember, one size does not fit all! Leave room for flexibility in your plan and don’t forget to evaluate to know what’s working and what’s not. Be exciting, be engaged! People will often respond to your enthusiasm. What are some things you have learned when communicating research to end users? Share your stories by tweeting us!
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