In this blog post we share our latest client collaboration with Dr Jenny Brierley from the University of Sheffield. Jenny met our director, Mihaela Gruia, at a Research Retold workshop we delivered at the University of Sheffield in 2019. Jenny is in the final stage of her PhD and looking to share her research in shorter formats.
The workshop introduced her to new ideas for research dissemination and she decided to create a visual summary of her research with us. Here we share the process of our collaboration, the deliverables of the project and the feedback that we received. We hope you enjoy reading .
1. The initial consultation
At Research Retold, we start every collaboration by having an introductory call where we learn a little bit about the research, the research team, and the intended goals of the collaboration. This is very important to tailor the final products to the target audience and make them as effective as possible.
During this initial consultation, we learned that Jenny’s research looks at fresh air in homes, with a focus on maintaining home ventilation and how this links to health and low carbon emissions. Jenny shared with us that she had just finalised her PhD thesis and was looking for different ways to articulate the key messages of her research in shorter formats. She wanted to create accessible materials that would help her share the key findings and raise awareness of the importance of home ventilation for both health and the environment.
On the call, we also agreed on the final deliverables of the project: a four-page visual summary and a PowerPoint template. This template would follow the branding of the visual summary to help her in online presentations and findings dissemination.
After this initial consultation, we asked Jenny to complete an audience questionnaire. We consider this an essential step for our collaborations. It allows us to learn more about the target audiences of our client and their position on the topic.
2. Creating the content
In the next collaboration call, we reviewed the answers from the audience questionnaire with Jenny to ensure we understood the context in which the materials would be used. We also discussed the structure of the visual summary and asked Jenny to produce a draft of the text. The 800-word document contained a summary of her research with our suggested structure for a visual summary. The following structure was suggested:
- Call to action
- Footer with more information
Every research project is different, as well as the researcher’s style and target audience. Thus, the suggested structure can be tweaked and personalised to the researcher’s needs. In the case of Jenny’s project, the final structure was the following:
- Title: Fresh air and low carbon… Why is maintenance the missing link and how can this be remedied?
- Problem: Two imperatives for UK homes
- Context: Cutting carbon and protecting health… the link
- Solution: Exploring the maintenance perspective
- Findings: What the research revealed
- Call to action: Call to action for housing organisations
- Footer with more information
The next step for us was to review this text keeping in mind the target audience and ensuring that the language was as straightforward and direct as possible. After several feedback iterations, the draft produced by Jenny was ready for design.
3. Designing the materials
Now came the creative part. In designing the materials for Jenny we had a general design direction of the project including colour palette and font. We encountered a bit of difficulty in getting the design style right for the project. The initial style used was too “curvy” and flowing, guided by the need to illustrate people in the document. However, this didn’t suit the target audience very well. We decided to adjust it and this was reflected in the second version, where the design became sharper and “boxier”.
As mentioned, the original collaboration request was to produce a four-page visual summary. However, after seeing the design, and reflecting on the content and the audience, Jenny came to the conclusion that a shorter document would serve her audience better.
Thus, we changed the scope of the project from a four-page to a two-page visual summary. However uncomfortable the change can be in the middle of the project, our overriding principle is that we have to produce materials that serve the intended audience. The final documents need to be fit for purpose and only contain the information that is most relevant for the audience.
As promised, the PowerPoint template was also created in line with the design of the visual summary. This file will help Jenny in the dissemination of her research findings. An advantage of this template is that she can personalise and customise it to her content and the presentations that she will be invited to give.
4. Disseminating the research results
After having a dialogue about how to conduct research communication efforts, Jenny decided to adopt a targeted and personalised approach to her dissemination. She will directly contact people in her network to share the visual summary with them.
If you are curious about the research, you can read the full research in her thesis available at the White Rose repository.
5. Lessons learned in this collaboration
We are very grateful to have collaborated with Jenny. This project has taught us three main lessons we want to share with you. Here’s what we came away with:
- Allow flexibility with the length of the materials
As long as the audience considerations are the overriding and guiding principle when deciding the length of a format, then it is perfectly acceptable for this to fluctuate throughout the project. We can try to mitigate this from the beginning, as much as possible, but flexibility needs to be built into the process as we do this.
- Be explicit in your call to action
One of the strongest aspects of this visual summary is the explicit call to action. Jenny is very direct about how people can contact her to apply the research findings to their organisation. This is something that we will encourage more academics to do in future collaborations.
- Adopt a targeted approach to dissemination
Jenny’s targeted approach in her dissemination is inspiring. She has built and developed a network throughout the years with whom she will engage in a purposeful way. She has also been very mindful of her time and resources. She has decided to take small steps in her dissemination efforts and see where this path takes her, instead of producing lots of comms material (i.e. a website, social media presence) that could potentially distract her from the actual dissemination work. There is always time in the future to do these if she feels the need to.
“The (Research Retold) team produced a 2-page visual summary and a PowerPoint template based on my research. I’m pleased with the end result and excited about sharing the summary with my contacts. If this helps to bring about a change for the better in current practice, however small, then I will be delighted. Thank you for the time and thought you have put in to achieve this result, particularly accommodating a change of plan halfway through!” – Jenny B.
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