Tips for communicating research to stakeholders
In this blog post, we share insights from two researchers and one impact consultant on communicating research to stakeholders
What do we mean by stakeholder?
We’ll pay homage to our academic inclinations and offer a definition of what stakeholder is:
‘A stakeholder represents any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s purpose and objectives’ (Freeman,1984).
This definition is used more in a business context.
For the purposes of this blog, we use stakeholder to mean someone interested in a certain research project, who would be interested to implement the findings in their line of work.
The word stakeholder is also an umbrella term for a very wide range of audiences that the academic researchers may interact with. For example, stakeholders could include:
- project partners
- other academics
- business leaders
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it shows the range of people that could interact with the research team. These stakeholders all stand to benefit from learning about the implications and recommendations offered by the research.
In our previous blog, we covered five reasons why academics should bother communicating their research beyond academia. Engagement with stakeholders is a key part of the communication process and it requires a lot of tailoring and listening from the academics to ensure they understand their audience.
Tips for communicating research to stakeholders
Tip 1: Make it relevant – Dr Andrew Sudmant, Research Fellow, University of Leeds
For this blog post, we reached out to several researchers that had published articles in The Conversation on topics with real-world impact and far-reaching implications.
The first person that got back in touch with us was Dr Andrew Sudmant, Research Fellow at the School of Earth and Environment, at the University of Leeds.
Andrew clearly gets involved in several high-profile research activities. We found this out in his piece in The Conversation titled ‘How Canada’s oil capital can become a climate leader’ (March 2018):
When we read the article we found it interesting that the highest opportunities for low-carbon investment can be found in cities with the highest energy consumptions.
Moreover, his research piqued out interest because it could make a significant contribution to motivating policymakers to invest in climate action.
Given the gravity of his research, we assumed he’d had to explain it to key stakeholders. Therefore, we wanted to quote some of his tips and insights.
Andrew kindly got back to us and offered the following:
‘Make it relevant: Does your area of research affect people in their everyday lives? Why should people think and care about the work you do? Even the most mundane topics have real-world implications, find the ones that are exciting and draw your reader in.’
Communicating research to stakeholders using the ‘Inverted Pyramid’
We agree with Andrew’s tips which made us think of the ‘Inverted Pyramid’:
(Source: University of Leicester)
Journalists use the ‘Inverted Pyramid’ when writing a press release. In the first section of the communication piece, ‘the introductory paragraph should contain the key information you wish to share, answering the five Ws (who, what, where, when and why).’ (University of Leicester).
Following Andrew’s advice, when communicating research with stakeholders, use the first section to explain why your research is relevant to them.
Tip 2: Tailor the message – Dr Amina Easat-Daas, Project Officer, University of Leeds
‘The project will critically review dominant anti-Muslim narratives, and also compare the use and efficacy of prevailing counter-narratives to Islamophobia in eight European Union member states (France, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Greece and the UK).
The CIK aims to detail best-practice in countering anti-Muslim hate across the continent. The key messages contained within the CIK will be aimed at policy makers, professionals and practitioners from across the EU.’
We read about Amina’s project in her article in The Conversation titled ‘How to tackle Islamophobia – the best strategies from around Europe’ (February 2019):
Amina engages with a wide range of stakeholders such as ‘policy makers, legal experts and jurists, academics and also grassroots activists’. Therefore, we found it fitting to ask her for tips about communicating research to stakeholders.
Amina explained that she responds to external requests (reactive efforts). At the same time, she takes every opportunity to reach out to new interested stakeholders (proactive efforts):
‘My engagement with stakeholders has always been both reactive and proactive. It is important to respond to those who reach out to you. Yet, also don’t to shy away from making new contacts in order to share your work.’
Formats for communicating research to stakeholders
In terms of the most effective formats of engaging with stakeholders, Amina described email, post, social media, introductions, events, networking and phone calls as ‘effective means of engaging’.
Yet, she cautioned by saying ‘it is important to remember that different groups of stakeholders will respond to different channels.’ For example:
‘When working with parliamentarians, email, phone and attending formal events related to the research subject are useful. Yet, community-level grassroots activists are perhaps more easily approached via attending and participating in local informal events.’
This need to tailor one’s messaging came up again when asked what formats she found most or least effective for communicating research to stakeholders. She shares:
‘Knowing your audience is crucial. For example, I enjoy speaking at events to promote my work, but I’m always aware that I need to tailor my style to better engage with my audience, and this has been effective for me.’
While choosing the right format and tailoring the messaging are crucial, Amina is also candid about the most challenging aspect of her engagement with stakeholders, and that is time. She shares:
‘It can be challenging to find the time to share your research and often stakeholders too have busy schedules. Being flexible and prioritising has been essential in overcoming this challenge.
Tip 3: Start small – Sarah Geere, Impact Consultant, 4StarImpact
In our ‘Guide to Communicating Research Beyond Academia’, we have a section on disseminating research findings to key stakeholders.
To make this section as relevant as possible for our audience (see what we did here – Tip 1), we reached out to people with expertise in this domain.
One of these people was Sarah Geere, Impact Consultant at 4StarImpact. Sarah has extensive knowledge of the UK research sector. In additions, she also had a wealth of experience and advice to help academics maximise the impact of their research.
Sarah is a contributor to our guide on page 22 where she shares her insight into communicating research to stakeholders:
‘Think carefully about your choice of stakeholders and how best to approach them. It is often better in the first instance to work with a smaller organisation that is keen and able to integrate your research quickly, rather than try to go straight for the big hitters who may not have the interest or agility to act on your findings. Get this right and the rest will follow.’
Researchers can build momentum around their work and maximise their chances of success by:
- using this staggered approach to implementing research findings
- showing how the research is relevant
- tailoring the messages in the most appropriate formats
Communicating research to stakeholders: Conclusion
In conclusion, if you’re wondering where to start your engagement with non-academic stakeholders, use these tips as a starting point. Besides this, if you are just starting out in your efforts, remember that networking is key.
Prioritise meeting new people in your industry who could benefit from learning about your work. Once you’ve identified your audience, take Amina’s advice and focus on developing long-term relationships. Do this by ‘networking as much as possible, helping others and maintaining good contact and relationships with stakeholders.’
We hope you enjoyed our article about communicating research to stakeholders. What part did you find the most useful?
Freeman, E. R. (2010) Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.