Does the moon exist only when someone is looking at it? – The importance of research dissemination

To help health and healthcare researchers increase the influence and impact of their work, the Health Foundation has developed an online communications toolkit. Here, Andrea Priest from the Health Foundation tells us about the new toolkit, the importance of research impact, and the role effective communication plays in this.

Over the past six months I have been working on a project that has repeatedly highlighted the question – what is research without dissemination and impact?

At the Health Foundation we fund and undertake some exceptional studies in health and health care, however something we constantly grapple with is how to ensure that this high quality, rigorous research reaches the right audiences in order to achieve real impact.

We live in an exciting age of research unparalleled in terms of both quality and scope thanks to advances in technology, emerging methodologies and innovative new concepts. At the same time we have increased opportunities to target a wider range of audiences through a growing array of communication channels.

Everyone from policy makers and practitioners to the general public are looking for reliable sources of information with which to make decisions; and never before have there been more opportunities for the research community to push robust findings and evidence to such audiences.

That said, when it comes to the communication of our work, as a community we can find it difficult to wrestle ourselves away from the (albeit important) ‘traditional’ mediums such as journal articles and conference presentations. But using these methods alone can limit the reach of our findings and therefore limit the impact, and overall purpose, of our work.

Communications toolkit for health and healthcare researchers

Obviously there are many challenges to communicating research through different channels to a wider range of audiences. Limited time, resource constraints and the risk of findings being misconstrued or misused are to name but a few.

However, effective communication and dissemination of research is key to achieving impact. To this end, the Health Foundation has been working with researchers and funders to develop a new online communications toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help researchers increase the influence and impact of their findings in health and health care.

The toolkit aims to be a practical and accessible communications resource to help researchers effectively communicate their findings to a broader range of audience

The toolkit aims to be a practical and accessible communications resource to help researchers effectively communicate their findings to a broader range of audiences, in a way that prioritizes action in response to evidence.

As funders of research, my team are always looking to increase impact and encourage our researchers to think about new communication channels such as social media, blogs and film. Perhaps most importantly we also encourage our researchers to build a plan for such activities into their projects from the very beginning of their research.

Thinking and planning in this way helps to ensure adequate time and resources are allocated to communications and that justice is done to hard-earned insights. This is a key priority for us as a funder and it plays a crucial part in our funding decisions.

The toolkit was therefore designed to help researchers write a comprehensive communications strategy and plan at the start of their research projects. It helps identify and involve key audiences so that they are engaged and ready to actively receive findings throughout the project lifespan, helping those findings gain real traction.

Back in 2014, the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) put impact on the map, introducing it as a new measure for assessing the quality of UK research. In addition to this, funders increasingly have to justify their decisions against a backdrop of ongoing fiscal constraint. This means that impact is likely to remain a prominent factor in both REF 2021 and the allocation of future funding. As the research community continues to produce a wealth of rich data and findings, both researchers and funders share a collective responsibility to get high quality, robust information out to decision makers at all levels in order to bring about positive change. To me this is the primary purpose of research.

Whether you are already adept at communicating your research but could use a few novel ideas, or you are relatively new to the concept and could use a helping hand, hopefully you will find the Health Foundation’s toolkit a useful aid in achieving this goal.

To finish I ask the question once again – what is research without dissemination and impact?

Or as Albert Einstein once asked his friend Abraham Pais, does the moon exist only when someone is looking at it?

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