Disseminating Your Research: Lessons Learned From the 2020 NCFR Annual Conference

Jennifer Crosswhite, Ph.D., CFLE, NCFR Director of Research and Policy Education
/ NCFR Report, Spring 2021

Thumbnail

See all articles from this issue

Many people across the NCFR organization are expressing the desire to learn more about how to disseminate their research. The 2020 NCFR Annual Conference provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about dissemination from the experiences of those who actively engage in disseminating research.

In this column I will highlight lessons from three conference sessions on this topic:

  1. Translating Your Work to a Broader Audience: a Family Policy Section invited presenter workshop, Session 200, with Wendy Middlemiss, current editor, and Jason Hans, previous editor, of Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science; and Anne Farrell and Cheri Shapiro, co-editors-in-chief of Journal of Child and Family Studies (see ncfr.org/ncfr-2020/session/200).
  2. Going Public: Recommendations for Engaging in Public Scholarship, Translational Research, and Advocacy Efforts: a Students and New Professionals invited presenter symposium, Session 224, with Luke T. Russel, Amber Vennum, Elaine Anderson, Karen B. Guzzo, and Jodi Dworkin (see ncfr.org/ncfr-2020/session/224).
  3. Dissemination Bootcamp: Turn Your Scholarship Into Public Engagement: organized by Education and Enrichment, Session 314, with Amber Vennum, J. Kale Monk, Paige McAllister, Loren Taylor, Eric Goodcase, Jeremy Kanter, Kristin Anders, Shelby Astle, Denzel Jones, Carmen Gray, and Caroline Gimarc (see ncfr.org/ncfr-2020/session/314).

Several valuable lessons can be learned by viewing these sessions individually, but also in tandem, in order to gain additional insights by integrating the body of information presented. I encourage those of you who want to learn more about disseminating research to view all three sessions relatively close together.

One of the suggestions provided by Jodi Dworkin in Session 224 is that it is important to distill research to the most important information. This is helpful so people can easily digest the materials and, I would add, makes it quicker to grasp. In that spirit, what follows are main points I have drawn from each of these sessions.

Definitions

All three sessions discussed methods for disseminating research. However, session leaders did not necessarily use the same terminology. In fact, several terms were used across the sessions, including translational science, translational research, applied science, public scholarship, and public engagement (Session 314). Additional terms you may have heard are science communication, outreach, engaged scholarship, scholar activism, and community-based participatory research.

J. Kale Monk (Session 314) defined public scholarship as “an intentional effort to create change through the translation and communication of scholarship to lay persons or the public,” including diverse modes of creating and circulating knowledge for and with the communities. He further suggested that there is a continuum of low to high engagement with public scholarship. It was implied several times throughout that we as Family Scientists are already doing translational work at some level, even if we do not realize it, whether writing scholarly implications and policy briefs or tweeting research findings. Many of us want to have a positive impact on the world and the families and communities with whom we work. We conduct this research to create real life changes.

Dissemination

One main idea shared across the sessions was how necessary it is to consider the dissemination of your research from the beginning—when you are creating your research agenda—rather than after the research is complete. You must ask yourself questions such as, What are you trying to change? Who is the intended audience? What are the needs of the audience? What is the best research question to ask to ensure change? It is important to think through these questions from the beginning to truly inform the full research agenda. We must understand who will use the results and how those results will be applied.

As you are thinking through the research project, you may discover there are multiple audiences (e.g., policymakers, local or state agency administrators, communities and families, and fellow scholars). Each of these audiences may also have various needs and various methods of consuming research. Have you considered their needs and perspectives in your research? Have you included community members as research participants and in helping construct the research questions? It is important to think through each of the audiences and these various needs to best inform your research agenda and achieve the best mode and tone to reach that audience. One suggestion provided was to think about audiences before publication outlets.

Cheri Shapiro (Session 200) also suggested considering a product development strategy. Consider the types of resources each of your audiences need and be mindful when creating those products. For example, products for scholars are much different than for policymakers, practitioners, and families. As you consider your audiences, it will be important to also consider how they will consume the research (e.g., fact sheets, policy briefs, scholarly articles, blogs, social media posts). The writing style and voice will be different across these types of resources. Although Family Scientists are well trained in scholarly writing, your audience may need easier-to-read resources. Specific skills needed for different dissemination tools are provided in the sessions. Anne Farrell suggested that, regardless of product, it is critical that all products include bias-free language, to consider equity, and include data visualization.

Approaches

Although myriad approaches were discussed throughout the sessions, I have chosen to focus on more in-depth writing implications in your research articles and working with the media.

Implications. Jason Hans (Session 200) discussed writing implications as part of your scholarly article. You might wonder how implications are a part of dissemination. Hans explained that clearly articulated implications based on research could draw in real-world audiences that will put your research to work. Implications should be compelling and grounded in the findings of your research. This requires thought, investment, and time into creating well-crafted implications. Several presenters agreed that blanket implication statements (e.g. “more research is needed”) are not enough. Shapiro indicated that when you clearly understand the implications of your research, this comes through in your writing.

Not all studies will have compelling implications, according to Hans (Session 200). Rather, your research is building on a body of literature. Pilot studies or incomplete investigations also are important, as they contribute to the larger body of research. Situate your implications within that larger body of research, as part of a whole. This includes connecting with well-established research in other areas related to your novel research. When doing so, it is also important to acknowledge the limitations of your research and implications (e.g., which populations were not studied, what is still unknown) and mention the nuances of your research. It is necessary to avoid overgeneralization.

Working With the Media: There were excellent discussions in the sessions about working with the media. Several presenters acknowledged that being interviewed can be very intimidating, that scholars do not feel they have all the answers. Regardless, there are ways to prepare, and talking with the media takes practice. Suggestions from the presenters included the following:

  • Create and maintain a web-based presence with your research areas and contact information through a website and consider being active on social media. This makes it easier for the media to find and contact you. This will increase your presence on the web when journalists determine who to interview.
  • Make yourself available and responsive to journalists. They are on a deadline and will move on without your responses.
  • Establish a reputation as someone who responds to interviews will help build recognition for your work and the discipline. Journalists will be more likely to contact you.
  • Give yourself time to think and prepare your talking points. Be confident in your expertise. You do not have to answer interview questions immediately.
  • Take advantage of your university resources such as a public relations or communications office. They may have further tips or training resources.

Presenters in the three sessions also recommended the following:

  • Build relationships with legislators, organizations, community partners, and established senior scholars who have connections.
  • Share your research on social media (e.g., Twitter). TikTok was also mentioned as a social media platform. Use hashtags such as #FamilyScience and #FamilyLifeEducation to frame your posts as part of a larger conversation. (I must acknowledge my teenage daughter helped me with this!).
  • Work with NCFR to write an NCFR policy brief or article in Family Focus or to present a webinar.

Challenges and Benefits

As with anything, engaging in public scholarship has benefits and challenges. The presenters across sessions agreed that this work can be time consuming and overwhelming. Universities don’t always recognize this work or count it toward promotion and tenure, or they may have parameters around how to engage in public scholarship. In the sessions, a fair amount of discussion addressed how this work can be accepted more in the university promotion and tenure process. One suggestion was to ensure that you include how your work has an impact on others. This can range from providing an Altmetric score of your scholarly article, the number of views and shares for a tweet conveying research, or the number of people with whom you have served through a prevention or intervention program.

Despite the challenges, there are great rewards to engaging in public scholarship, such as being able to make a difference for the families you endeavor to strengthen and support with the results of your research. Public scholarship also can help your work become more cited and gain visibility.

Conclusion

Public scholarship is a framework (Session 224). If you view yourself as a scholar, it feeds into everything you do. Some will feel comfortable engaging in public scholarship on a minimal basis and others will want to be more highly engaged. Legislators and other decision makers will make decisions even in the absence of research, as Anne Farrell pointed out (Session 200), so it is incredibly important that we disseminate high-quality research across numerous audiences. All levels of dissemination are valued and necessary.

Accessing Session Recordings

There were many important sessions during the conference, of which these three are only a sample. I encourage you to view all the session recordings to deepen your knowledge. Registered conference attendees can access them at ncfr.org/ncfr-2020/schedule. You can still register to access the recordings at our reduced conference rate. Visit ncfr.org/ncfr-2020/registration for details.

The expertise on public scholarship presented by Monk, Vennum, and others can also be accessed through NCFR’s webinar, Creating Change Through Public Scholarship: Parts 1 and 2.