Impact doesn't happen without the active involvement of different stakeholders, therefore identifying them lies at the very core of maximising impact. It is also advisable to carefully plan how to get your message to your stakeholders. A well-thought communication and exploitation plan helps you to write more convincing funding applications and reach the impact you are aiming at. In Horizon Europe (HEU), the biggest research funding programme in the world funded by the EU, it is widely understood that impact is the result of successfully disseminating, communicating and exploiting research results to a variety of audiences.
Communicating and disseminating your research
Traditionally, the primary output of research is a scientific publication which ideally is read widely by peers, and earlier that alone was considered impact. But how often do policy makers or ordinary citizens read scientific papers? Do they actively follow everything that is published to get the latest knowledge? In order for research to fulfil its impact potential, knowledge has to be distributed in different ways. In general, dissemination happens when we disclose our research findings to our peers, and communication means the promotion of research and its results to a wider audience including the general public.
When you start drafting your dissemination and communication plan you should think about the following:
- Who could be interested in the set up or planning of your research, and whose primary interest is in the results alone?
- Who should know about your research?
- What's the right time to contact potential stakeholders?
- What is the best way to communicate with different stakeholders?
The strategic planning of communication activities and the appropriate measures begin during the planning phase of the project, which often is the phase when you are writing the funding application. Once the project is running, the communication activities should accompany the R&I work of the project throughout its duration, however activities related to the dissemination and exploitation of results often continue even after the project has ended.
A good DEC plan
- Is done in the project planning phase and modified throughout the project's lifetime.
- Is carefully executed.
- Has meaningful objectives. (Choose the means to communicate according to the target audience. Think about the reaction or change you expect from the audience. )
- Is targeted and adapted to various audiences including the media and the public.
- Includes the right medium and means. (Consider a wide variety of different means - including one-way exchange such as website, press releases, brochures, etc. or two-way exchange such as exhibitions, school visits, internet debates, etc. - and engage.)
- Is proportionate to the size of the project.
Plan your dissemination, exploitation and communication (DEC) activities carefully. You should be familiar with policy texts related to the funding call and understand what the funder is looking to achieve with the funding. Always start to plan your dissemination and exploitation activities well in advance.
Your DEC plan is key to maximising your impact. It should describe, in a concrete and comprehensive manner, the area in which you expect to make an impact and who are the potential users of your results. Your plan should also describe how you intend to use the appropriate channels of dissemination and interaction with potential users.
It is therefore important to closely monitor the communication activities and be able to adjust them in case it seems to be necessary. We have made some simple samples of communication and dissemination & exploitation plans that you can use as an inspiration in funding applications.
Remember the audience
When communicating about your research, always consider the audience. Consider the full range of potential users and uses, including research, commercial, investment, social, environmental, policy-making, setting standards, skills and educational training where relevant. Scientific conferences and papers do not easily reach the public unless the media takes interest in the topic. It is easier to pique journalists’ curiosity if you are able to describe why your research is important and how it will change the world in a more popularized manner and by concrete examples.
While scientific articles or conference presentations about complex theories are the primary way to reach other researchers, media and the general public often find them too unapproachable. Politicians will appreciate a concise briefing that presents your idea and findings in a way they can read in a few minutes while having a cup of coffee, while younger audience's attention is more easily caught online and on social media.
One of the most important things researchers can do to prepare themselves to interact with stakeholders is to get ready for the question "Why?".
An average citizen is perhaps best reached with the help of media. If a news clip or a newspaper article raises their interest, they are more likely to read more about the subject or attend possible events you are organising. It is always good to keep in mind that the competition for people's time is fierce, and they are not likely to spend too much time on things that don't manage to arouse their curiosity fairly quickly, no matter if that person is a CEO of a health technology company or private citizen interested in their personal health.
One of the most important things researchers can do to prepare themselves to interact with stakeholders is to get ready for the question "Why?". You should be ready to explain why your research is important, why it should be done, and why you are the right person to do it to anyone asking, be it the famous grandma or a representative of the press. If presenting your idea verbally seems insufficient, you can think about ways to visualise and contextualise your research so that your audience can more easily place it in the right context and understand how important it is, and what societal impact it has.
Keep your public online profiles up to date so the press and decision-makers looking for science-based commentary and knowledge on the subject can find you.
When you want to reach decision-makers or the press, topicality is a big plus. If you are working on something that is currently in the news, it is the perfect time to offer your expertise or, at the very least, be prepared for requests by interested parties. Keep your public online profiles up to date so the press and decision-makers looking for science-based commentary and knowledge on the subject can find you. Researchers can be invited to parliamentary hearings where you can present your findings to decision-makers directly. For the same reason, where appropriate, it is a good idea to invite individual politicians to attend seminars you organise. Even if the benefits aren't always direct and immediate, it may pay off later.
Other forms of stakeholder engagement
Maximising impact isn't limited to transfering the results after a research project. When planning a project, or even at the idea stage, you can already interact and communicate with your stakeholders. They can help you in assessing your idea, giving you input on different problems needing a solution or scientific knowledge.