Elasticated bow ties and ponchos. Both are examples of instances where the one-size-fits-all approach works. But when it comes to communicating your academic research to multiple stakeholders, this approach is better left to items that will batter your sartorial reputation.
There’s likely a broad spectrum of people or organisations interested in your research project who affect or are affected by its outcomes. So how can you make people care about your work and use your insights to drive change or make an impact in your field? Effective stakeholder engagement is more than disseminating your research by pushing the same content and media to every group in the hope that something will stick. As with any good working relationship, building something meaningful requires excellent communication skills and an understanding of what motivates them.
Identify the Different Stakeholders
Consider who specifically you want your research outputs to reach. Whether you want to maximise the uptake, sidetake or downtake of your research, it’s important to understand who your audiences are. Whether policymakers, the wider public, or other academic communities, whoever you want to influence, the more you understand your audience and who you’re speaking to, the easier it will be to engage them.
Who Are Your Stakeholders? Are They:
- General public
- Leaders in your field/other academics
- Policymakers, councillors, and politicians
- Industry and big business- corporate leaders
- Specific industry practices and professions, i.e. farmers, doctors, architects
Areas to Identify:
- Ideal solutions
- Where do they hang out?
- What do they care about?
Find the Value Proposition
Your value proposition is a promise of the value to be delivered. Think of it as an elevator pitch as to why stakeholders should be interested in your work. Just like we have goals as researchers, your stakeholders also have goals. When you truly realise what others are striving to accomplish, you can better align with them on what is important. In order to identify your unique value proposition, some key questions to ask yourself and your research team are:
- Who do we serve, and why should they care?
- What does the stakeholder want to achieve?
- What problem does our research solve?
- What do they gain from it?
Create a Compelling Story
Often, the reason many stakeholders don’t actively engage with research is because they’re not research literate. The general public, corporate leaders or even policymakers might fall into this category. Try tailoring your story to each stakeholder, placing the stakeholder at the centre of your messaging, and acknowledging their problems and how your research can solve them. Speaking the same language as the voice of the group you’re trying to reach can break through the noise, helping key stakeholders listen to and empathise with your perspective.
Choose the Right Media
More and more, researchers sharing their findings are rethinking traditional methods of disseminating research in favour of alternative deliverables that encourage or demand engagement. To identify which techniques will resonate with your audience, consider where they spend their time. For example, running a campaign on Twitter full of bite-sized insights may capture the general public’s attention, but not so much for a policymaker, where a presentation at a seminar may be better suited.
The key to ensuring that your research lives on beyond the project lies in understanding your audience and seeing your research communications as an ongoing, evolving conversation between you and your stakeholders. If you need help to catch – or keep – the attention of your stakeholders, then bookings for our free communications strategy training workshops for academics are open! Secure your space here.
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Written in collaboration with Naomi Couper