By David F. Zirkle, PhD
At its core, research is a transformation process that increases the usefulness of information at each step along the way. Raw data collected on the front end is transformed into useful and actionable information to improve decision-making within an organization.
However, having information may be a luxury when considering the cost to the organization in terms of dollars and resources. Information is only of value if it influences decisions. Since the organization bears a cost in terms of time and money, careful consideration must be given as to when to invest in research, how to do the research and how to disseminate the results.
One of the more effective ways to increase utilization and improve the quality and relevance of research is to involve potential users in planning of the research design itself. So before the research and analysis even begins, target audiences should be identified and engaged early to build their interest and provide a sense of ownership in the research program. Early involvement reduces the likelihood of last minute surprises for both the research team as well as the target audience.
Once the research is done, the final step in the research process involves how the information is delivered and distributed to decision-makers throughout the organization. It’s very similar to the old advertising adage – deliver the “right message, to the right people, at the right time.”
Effective dissemination of research findings is far more than the simple distribution of a report; it is a time-consuming process that requires careful planning in order to be effective. Several studies indicate that as much as 10% of the total research time and effort should be allocated to dissemination of the results.
Consider how the information is packaged and delivered. Busy decision-makers don’t have the time to read dissertations in order to digest the relevant information from a research study. Reports should be short, concise and focused on the issues at hand and not cluttered with high-minded strategy when most organizations are focused on actionable tactics and implementation. Regardless if the report is a written document or a PowerPoint presentation; it should explain what the research results mean, why they are important and what action should be taken. In some cases, results can be packaged via electronic means which permit decision-makers to play “what if scenarios” with the data.
Effective use of knowledge gleaned from research also depends on how openly information flows throughout the organization. While some organizational cultures foster a “knowledge is power” philosophy causing a hoarding mentality, others openly distribute and encourage utilization of information at all levels. Many organizations now post research findings on secure Intranets and educate employees about what information is available, where it is located and when and how to use it.
Here is a quick checklist to assist with the development of an effective dissemination plan.
Users: Identify upfront and involve potential research users focusing on their expectations and any reporting medium and format preferences.
Content: Outline the core elements of the projected content you want to disseminate to each potential user group.
Medium: Describe the media and format through which the message content can best be delivered to potential users.
Availability: Identify strategies to promote awareness of the research results to key decision-makers.
Distribution: Outline how the information will be distributed and how it will be archived and made available for use at a later date.
Success: Identify how you will know if your dissemination activities have been successful.