Monday, 3 November 2014

Novel approaches to delivering knowledge exchange for academic research - what might be effective for the social sciences?

Ever thought about delivering the results of research through a play based on the first-hand experiences of the study’s subjects? Or how useful might it be to prepare a report for policymakers using a narrative borrowed from crime fiction, that grabs the reader through their “discovering the body” [of evidence] in a piece of research in a way similar to how characters in a murder mystery might discover a corpse?

These were some of the possibilities considered by the CRFR reading group when we recently read Communicating social research findings more effectively: what can we learn from other fields? This publication examines a raft of novel and impactful approaches for conveying outputs from (predominantly non-social science) research to target audiences, which go beyond merely “information telling”.

The challenge of changing minds…
The paper begins with a background section on why it is important for social science research to inform policy and practice agendas and delivery. Many of us found the “Knowing” pathway (adapted from Ekblom, 2002) – shown below – to be a useful summary of the processes and stages involved in successfully formulating and conveying research so that it achieves an impact within the policy/practice arena.

  • Know why action is required, for example the relationship between basic values, beliefs and assumptions and future policy decision;
  • Know about problems, for example the nature, formation, natural history and interrelations of health and social problems in context;
  • Know what works, that is what policies, strategies or specific interventions will bring about desired outcomes, at acceptable costs and with few-enough wanted consequences;
  • Know how to put it into practice: knowing what should be done is not the same as being able to do it effectively - knowledge about effective programme implementation is also needed;
  • Know who to involve: such knowledge covers estimates of client needs as well as information on key stakeholders necessary for potential solutions and mechanisms for building alliances for action.
As the authors of the paper point out, knowledge exchange needs to be “as much about changing minds and mental models as about supporting specific decisions.”
Communicating social research findings more effectively?
Having established the context that, in order to maximise impact from social research, it might be necessary to move beyond “information telling”, the rest of the paper considers a range of knowledge exchange approaches used by “influencers” in fields outside the social sciences. These were divided into six categories:
  • Narratives and stories: fiction, faction and persuasion – moving from the use of logic, data and evidence in the promotion of knowledge, to instead generating empathy through emotions, values and imagination;
  • Language choice and metaphor diversity; employing more creative use of language as means to more effectively communicate social research;
  • Advertising and marketing - using the persuasive and creative skills developed by these disciplines to effectively communicate with, and potentially influence, key knowledge users;
  • Journeying together: co-producing knowledge – deploying collaborative models of research production that involve and engage knowledge users throughout the lifecycle of a research project;
  • Immersion and experimental learning – moving from seeking to describe the lived experiences identified by qualitative and ethnographic research to seeking to replicate these very experiences first hand; and
  • Creativity and the arts – employing art, music and drama as channels through which: knowledge can be exchanged; fostering of practice development can occur, and potentially tools through which research itself can be progressed can be developed.
There was agreement that some of the approaches - such as the co-production of knowledge - were certainly relatively novel in relation to social science research. However, the group identified several examples of social science research projects that utilised a number of novel approaches to promote knowledge exchange. These included:
Exploring the lives of people living with alcohol related brain damage (ARBD) using photography. The project culminated in the public exhibition of the photographs, amongst other creative outputs.
Discussions about these, and other examples of novel engagement initiatives, prompted debate over the possible resultant blurring of boundaries between research activity, knowledge exchange and art.
Our deliberations concluded with there being a consensus that the paper was thought provoking in highlighting examples of how non-conventional channels and tools can be used to bring about knowledge exchange and associated impact for the social sciences. However, it's also important to consider that these should be used as part of a comprehensive KE strategy that seeks to engage target audiences in a way that is relevant to their needs and behaviours. To draw an appropriate analogy - given that one of the approaches highlighted in the paper is marketing - there is little point in running an advertising campaign on Facebook, if the majority of its intended target audience is not connected to the internet...
Chris Berry
KE and Impact Officer
School of Social and Political Science
Davies, Huw T.O.; Powell, Alison E. (2012) Communicating social research findings more effectively: what can we learn from other fields? Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice, Volume 8, Number 2, May 2012, pp. 213-233(21).
Ekblom, P (2002) "From the source to the mainstream is uphill: The challenge of transferring knowledge of crime prevention through replication, innovation and anticipation", in N. Tilley (ed) Analysis for crime prevention: Crime prevention studies, volume 13, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

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