The future of think tank communications: a researcher’s perspective

A killer stat’ and ‘one key message’ are phrases that strike fear into the heart of many a researcher. Having spent months designing, carrying out and writing up your carefully crafted research, you now need to find a media hook or a soundbite; something that can get the message across quickly and easily. This was true before the digital age but it is even truer in today’s social media-savvy world. We might fear it but we can’t ignore it. You know what? It might just be time to embrace it as a way to ensure good quality research reaches its intended audience.

Last week I attended an event, hosted by JRF and part of the #WonkComms movement that focussed on the future of think tank research communications.  Here are some things I will take away from it:

The way people consume information has changed
It really has. People are time poor, with a multitude of media vying for their attention. It is a crowded space. It is commonplace for journalists, policy makers and even academics to consume information via social media, on the move or whilst doing other things. We have long debated who really reads full research reports and the debate is even more important now. We need to understand how our audiences consume media.

Consider the balance between strategy and innovation.
At an organisational level – decide how you will approach digital and social media. Why are you doing it and what do you want to achieve? At an individual level: give it a go! Try out new ways to create content, engage and interact with your audience. There are lots of tools and techniques out there which are free or inexpensive to use.

Research quality is not jeopardised by digital comms
There is still a need for robust, high quality research; the product which sits behind the tweet, podcast or infographic is still of central importance. There is a lot of information out there but quality still counts. As well as getting a central message across, communications tools should be seen as a way into the detail.

The best way to have impact is to ensure experts in research and communications are working work together! And collaboration is best done from the beginning of a research project.

Let’s remember why we are doing this: we want to change minds, encourage action and make a difference. Whether you work in research or communications that is certainly a common goal we can surely all agree on!

Claire Turner
Head of Ageing Society Research Team, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Posted in Uncategorized
2 comments on “The future of think tank communications: a researcher’s perspective
  1. Good points to keep in mind. I’m less sure about your end bit though. I always thought research was about learning and understanding and not necessarily “to change minds, encourage action and make a difference”; although it often have that effect. I’d hate to have people think that research is now entirely derived from the type of funder who says “We want to commission research which will show….”

  2. Dr. Chris Brown says:

    Expertise requires deep and reflective learning and policy makers will never become experts in research use unless they can fuse research evidence with their own tacit and practical knowledge. Evidence informed in this sense should be viewed more about knowledge creation than the push of a commodity: this then suggests that partnership and the development of policy learning communities is probably the way forward for being evidence informed. A cheeky plug but:

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