How to communicate research to policymakers: workshop insights

by | Jul 26, 2021 | Workshops

Do you want to communicate your research to policymakers but are unsure about how? 

Are you curious about our training sessions?

In this blog, we share our experience at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel – PhD day where we delivered a one-hour workshop on “Communicating your research beyond academia to policymakers”.

Our founder Mihaela Gruia provided attendees with practical tools, examples and ideas for how to effectively communicate research findings to policymakers.

Keep reading to learn more!


Training for the VUB PhD Day

We were very excited to take part in the 2021 PhD Day organised by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel which took place on the 27th of May. 

It was an honour to collaborate with a European university. Fortunately for us, this year the PhD Day had a virtual format so we were able to increase our international impact without stepping out of our homes.

The objective of the event was to bring PhD candidates from all disciplines – from human sciences to medicine and bioscience engineering –  to share their experiences, learn from each other and discover the university’s support in place for them. 

The theme of this year’s edition was “Sustainable Development Goals: Global Challenges translated into Local and Research Projects at VUB”. So, what better way to enable researchers to make an impact in the SDGs than our popular workshop “Communicating research beyond academia to policymakers”?


The workshop


In what scenario do we engage with policymakers?

During this interactive workshop, we shared practical tools, examples and ideas for how to effectively communicate research findings to policymakers. 

One of the usual misconceptions researchers make when engaging with policymakers is assuming that they are experts in all of the topics they work on. However, it is really important to remember that they are people. Very busy people indeed. Thus, the more accessible you can make your message, the more they can use your research to support their decisions and create change.

Thus, we focused the session on research communication. This means ‘the process of translating complex research findings into a language format and context that non-experts can understand’ ( 

Research communication has many benefits. When targeting policymakers, it gives you the opportunity to tackle immediate needs and problems of society. Moreover, by communicating your research on your terms, you can stay in control of the narrative.


Scenarios for research communication

During the workshop, we talked about three scenarios for research communication targeting policymakers:

  • The demand-driven scenario, in which policymakers request evidence from researchers directly. 
  • The push-mode scenario whereby researchers are proactive and create material for dissemination. 
  • The pull-mode scenario is for researchers in the early stages of their project and would like to bring partners on board. 

In a poll, over 60% of the participants in our workshop identified themselves in the push-mode scenario:

Poll results graph

The workshop covered tips and recommendations to create accessible materials. We covered all scenarios, as well as the different formats that can make your message more palatable.


Kickstarting your communication with policymakers

To help researchers with their research communication efforts, we worked on these important preparatory questions:

  1.     What is the aim of communicating my research?
  2.     Who is my audience?
  3.     What is their current position on the topic?
  4.     What can I share with them that will capture their attention?
  5.     What do I want to see as a result of them understanding my research?

These questions help to tailor research communication material. In our workshop, we provided participants with a workbook so that they could answer these questions and work on the message they wanted to communicate. A key feature of our workshops is that they are interactive, so you can ask any questions you have and at the end of the session, you have material you can refer back to in the future.

The downloadable workbook is a very nice tool to think in a structured manner about how to communicate research and pinpoint your audience and approach of communicating” – Bram


Communicating with policymakers: the visual summary

In the workshop, we shared with the participants some of our very own case studies. We love to think about creative ways of communicating research and to inspire others to share knowledge (if you want to know more about this, you can have a look at our portfolio).

One of our favourite communication formats is the visual summary. This visual format is ideal for the demand-driven and push-mode scenarios. We like it because you can mix qualitative and quantitative data to create visually appealing documents.

During the event, we discussed the suggested structure for visual summaries based on our experience. It was great to have the opportunity of helping researchers in so many different areas to flesh out their own.

Visual summaries by Research Retold


If you are interested in creating a visual summary of your research, you can use our Guide to Communicating Research Beyond Academia or contact us to start a collaboration!

There are many tools available to create visually impactful and accessible documents. During the session, we showed some examples of what you can achieve with three tools and a brief introduction to one of our favourite software.

Another advantage of attending the workshop is that participants have the opportunity to get feedback from us on their material. If you take this training, rest assured that you are supported every step of the way.

Finally, we ended the training with general tips, a Q&A session and a feedback form. We are happy to share that participants enjoyed themselves.

“It has been extremely valuable in helping me to communicate my findings with policymakers in the future” – Omar N. C.

“The session gave me insight into how to influence practice and policy. It is mostly vague in other training sessions, now it was really clear” – Hannelore S.


Thank you

A big thank you to all the attendees and the organisers of this event. We wish the best to the researchers in their efforts to reach policymakers and make a positive difference. We’re here to offer support as needed.

Many thanks to our Research Communicator, Phebe Bonilla, for writing this blog post.

Did you find this blog insightful? Does your university have a PhD day? Would you like Research Retold to take part or would you be interested to attend a training session like this?

If you are interested in our training sessions as a participant or for your institution, contact us! Write to

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