A couple of us from LGiU attended a Wonk Comms event over the summer called ‘Research in the Digital Age: Wonk or Comms?’ The event emphasised how important it is for think tanks to adapt to an environment in people predominantly “graze” information, rather than sitting down to study hefty reports. It got us thinking about the plethora of free tools on the internet that the event’s speakers suggested we could be using to spread the word about our research, and as a result we started investigating podcasts.
We did have our misgivings at first: would we have the time in our already packed schedules to learn how to podcast? Would it take ages to edit and record? Would we need expensive equipment, like microphones? However, it turned out to be much easier, quicker and cheaper than we’d initially thought, and we’ve been doing them for a few months now.
In terms of the format, I’ve usually introduced the report, and then conducted an informal Q&A with the researcher on the report’s toplines. In the case of our report in partnership with the Electrical Safety Council, I’ve also recorded a section with the client. I’ve then uploaded the mp3 to LGiU’s Soundcloud and created an iTunes channel to host them.
Here are a few things I’ve learned through my experimentations:
Making podcasts is quicker than you think. I’ve approached podcasts in the same way that we approach blogs: as quick and timely tools to communicate the toplines and the key issues raised by our reports, rather than lengthy pieces of work we’ve laboured over for hours – we’ve already written the report! I didn’t really want the podcasts to be too long, because the whole idea behind think tanks using new media is to communicate the ideas in those lengthy reports in accessible, bite-size chunks. There’s no shame in recycling copy from a blog or from your report’s summary: as many a Wonk Commer has noted, you might be sick of repeating a message, but repetition is vital to get the message across. And unless the person you’re recording is not very fluent and needs to start again ten times, you’ll only need to do minimal editing.
Making podcasts is not as hard as it seems. As long as you have basic knowledge of how to use a computer, there isn’t any training that you need that you can’t teach yourself from Google. There are thousands of Youtube videos on how to podcast, and the tools are pretty intuitive.
Making podcasts doesn’t cost anything. Unless you want to make professional recordings in noisy places (see above for why I think you don’t), there’s no need for fancy equipment. I assume most laptops nowadays have a function to make recordings. I’ve used Garage Band. To host we’ve used Soundcloud, but there are loads of free mp3-hosting sites you could use such as Audioboo and Podbean.
The only real drawback I can think of is that, as with many new comms tools, it’s difficult to know who you’re reaching. There isn’t a way to track who is listening, and whether your podcasts are reaching the right people. However, because of the ease, speed and low costs of producing them, the input in terms of both time and money is minimal, and so the risk is low.
I’ve made three podcasts so far: on our essay collection on localism, our report on raising standards in the private rented sector and our recent guide to tracking councils’ preventative spend. We’re planning to make another on our upcoming report on building better dialogue between tenants and landlords. We’ll keep you posted about how the experiment goes…
Josephine Suherman is a Policy Researcher at the @LGiU