Sharing your research beyond academia

Contents

Sharing your research findings beyond academia

Summary

  • Your research might be valuable and decision-relevant for many groups of people outside of academia, however your findings are unlikely to be seen by these people unless you make an active effort to share your research.
  • Stakeholders who might find your research useful include non-profits, think tanks, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and funding organisations.
  • It’s often best to reach out to potential stakeholders as early as possible, potentially before you’ve finalised a research question, as communicating with stakeholders early in the research process could help you make your research more relevant to their needs.
  • Whatever stage you are at with your research, we think there’s often value in reaching out to potential stakeholders and thinking about the forms in which you could make your findings accessible and easy for them to act on, beyond publishing them in a journal.
  • A presentation, workshop, information sheet, article or social media post are some of the forms in which you might share your research findings, depending on who you want to reach.
 

Why share your research beyond academia?

Research has the power to transform the world in a number of ways, in part because it can potentially inform the actions of many groups of people beyond academia.

However, when researchers identify ways the world could be improved, it’s often years or decades before the findings become widely known and implemented, if they are at all.

In Randomistas, Andrew Leigh offers various examples of research failing to make it to the people who could act on it. For example, criminologist James Finckenauer conducted the first randomised evaluation of the Scared Straight program in 1978 and found that participation in the program actually increased crime, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that these findings began to affect changes to the program (p.20). According to surgeon and author Atul Gawande, ‘pointless medical care’ costs hundreds of billions of dollars annually, with one in four Americans receiving a medical test or treatment that has been proven through a randomised trial to be either useless or harmful (p.63).

So just producing results that could improve the world does not guarantee that anyone will act on your research. Disseminating your research effectively so it achieves its potential requires a plan to get ‘the right knowledge to the right people at the right time, and to help them apply it.’ (The Tavistock Institute, lecture slides MSc Developing and Evaluating Interventions)

Is it always important to share your research?

In short, no – it’s not a given that it’s important to share any particular research project beyond academia (or to share it at all).

You might decide that the main value of your project is in achieving one or more of the aims below:

  • testing your fit for research in general or for a specific type of research.
  • building knowledge and expertise, or demonstrating important research skills.
  • creating a foundation that you will build on later, or that academics and other researchers will build on to produce actionable insights.

However if you think your research could helpfully inform the actions of decision-makers beyond academia, but you’re not sure that sharing your research is worth the time this would take, it might be worth considering factors such as:

  • how much you think you could increase the value of your research by disseminating it.
  • what people in your field who have more experience think about how long it could take to share your research in various ways, and how valuable this would be.
  • the potential value of connecting with stakeholders and sharing your research as a way of learning more about how to do this for the future.

What kinds of stakeholders might you connect with to share your research findings?

Some examples are:

  • Advocacy organisations
  • Funding organisations
  • Non-profits
  • Think tanks
  • Policy-makers in government
  • The media
  • The general public

When you’re looking for stakeholders to reach out to, consider whether there are organisations whose work could be informed by your findings, policy debates that would be enriched by your research, and whether there’s anyone in your network who can connect you (including us!).

Many of our research direction profiles across all cause areas list organisations you could potentially collaborate with or share your findings with. If you’re doing research related to the long-term future or reducing existential risk, here’s a database of research organisations that might help you find relevant stakeholders.

When to reach out to stakeholders

You may get the best results from engaging with stakeholders by reaching out (or letting us put you in touch) as early as you can in the research process.

The most impactful, decision-relevant research might be identified by the stakeholders themselves. If you’ve already started your research project, it might still be worth reaching out to any potential stakeholders before it’s complete. They might still influence your trajectory and help you with linking your work to existing efforts, and they will also be best placed to tell you how you can present and share your research findings in the most useful way.

At the same time, stakeholders might have different value systems, concerns or goals that don’t perfectly align with the other goals you have for your research process, so look out for ways that collaboration might constrain other goals you have for your research, and decide what you want to optimise for.

What forms could you share your research in?

Some ways of making your research more accessible to stakeholders could include:

  • Running workshops or giving presentations (e.g at conferences)
  • Sharing summaries and information sheets
  • Publishing journal articles, potentially in open access journals
  • Sharing your research on relevant forums – for example the EA forum (see here for more information about doing this)
  • Sharing your key findings on social media
  • Creating videos explaining your findings
  • Writing for publications aimed at the public, such as the New Scientist or Discover Magazine

Deciding when and how to share your findings

The best strategies for sharing your findings will heavily depend on the stakeholders you want to reach and how you want to impact their decision-making.

When you’re considering how to disseminate your research, key points you could consider are below (these are based on lecture slides MSc Developing and Evaluating Interventions from the Tavistock Institute).

  • Who is your target audience and how are they most likely to engage with your findings?
  • What language will be most accessible and helpful for your stakeholders (e.g. should it be technical and how formal should it be)?
  • How do any stakeholders you’re in contact with say they would prefer to engage with your findings?
  • What is your key message and what data and information should be emphasised? What will be most interesting for people to see first?
  • What is the purpose you want to achieve with your results? How does this inform your choice of format?

You could also consider whether it’s best to share your results with stakeholders at particular times before your research project is completed. For example, especially if you’re doing a long research project, are there stages during the project when you could send your stakeholders an update they would find useful? Is there an ideal window of opportunity for sharing your research because of a policy decision that’s being made or a conference that’s being held?

Connecting specifically with decision-makers in government

Some ideas to consider if you want to connect with stakeholders in government, based on those in The Research Impact Handbook by Mark Reed, are:

  • Try to form connections with policy-makers on an ongoing basis. If you’re in regular contact with policy-makers, they’re more likely to come to you for answers if your expertise is relevant to a particular decision.
  • When sharing your research, try sending a policy brief to someone junior (as it will likely be easier to get in contact with them) that makes it clear how your research is relevant.
  • Explore your network and those of your colleagues to see if you have pre-existing connections who could introduce you to policy-makers.
  • Many decisions are made at technical events, such as the UN Convention of Biological Diversity. Try to attend events like these to share your research.
  • Some countries have set up specific platforms to enhance dialogue between researchers and policy-makers. Check if anything like this exists for your research area.
  • Try to build face-to-face connections with decision-makers during one-to-one meetings or  workshops, conferences or seminars. Leave a policy brief as a reminder of your key points.

Next steps

  • If you want guidance and ideas about how to make your research decision-relevant for stakeholders and who to share it with, apply for our coaching!

Contributors

This advice was published 2/04/23. Thanks to Lia Boldt for helpful feedback. All errors remain our own.

Read next: Tips on doing impactful research →

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