Skip to Content
46 Min Read

Disseminating Research: Getting Critical Findings Into the Right Hands


In the world of communication, good research is currency. Journalists need credible sources to cite, and policy makers need evidence they can trust when making decisions. A recent media survey by Cision ranked original research reports second to news announcements as the content journalists most want to receive from sources. Last year’s National Journal survey of Capitol Hill Influencers found that research reports and white papers were highly valued to both form influencer’s opinions and to persuade others when preparing for a critical vote. They ranked research reports low, however, for “getting quickly up to speed.”

How can we maximize the leverage that research reports provide, while also packaging the findings in an accessible way that policy makers and practitioners can easily use? ComNet members who fund research, and ComNet members who produce research, bring a wealth of experience in dissemination. Let’s share that with each other.


  1. Research dissemination strategies for greatest impact.

  2. How to move from complex research findings, to succinct data visualizations and one-pagers.

  3. Identify ComNet colleagues with experience with research dissemination for future community of practice.

Research provides credible information that can cut through the tension and move across the aisle. Better research communication can impact public funding decisions and build support for effective programs. The methodical, careful research world and the fast-paced, short-soundbite communication world can work better together to get important findings into the right hands. Funders who fund research; Communicators and others who work for organizations that produce research; Any communicator who wants to use evidence and research in their messaging.

Below, watch the video or read the transcript.



Sean Gibbons:

It’s Sean Gibbons from the Communication Network. Welcome to a sunny day in my bedroom. And this is the latest. We’re winding down V+, and this is the third to the last group that we have together. And you’re in for a good one.

I’m sure you know because you signed up and you are joining it now, a tremendous number of great folks will talk to us about what a lot of folks end up doing which is communicating information to people, whether they’re policymakers or academics, any folks that may have use of research that shows up and feels a little bit dense, maybe a little bit obtuse, and the value is not immediately apparent.

So, it’s our job we simultaneous translators put it in plain English. We will talk about how to do that and build the strategies and plans to not only build that buy in internally and get the buy in you’re after. That’s what we give to you over the next hour.

Before we do that, we will to what we usually do and that’s start with a two word check in. So if you would, go ahead and wonder on down to the bottom of your screen with your cursor or finger or whatever you use to manipulate the computer and if you would go ahead and in the chat function, it look like a word cloud, crack that open and make sure you’re talking it may say everyone or all panelists and attendees and if you would join us here, let’s just go in and in two words, where you’re coming in from and two words how are you doing today? Are you okay? Let us know. So, part of our purpose as we have gathered is to be in community with one another and one way to do that to support one another is to be honest, how will we be doing.

And Marrianne has jumped in.
Alison coming in from Chicago. I knew that because I saw you a second ago.
Jennifer in North Carolina.
Maura in Chicago.
Simone in Boston.
Sabrina in D.C. Strangely good. I hope you’re getting outside. It’s bright and sunny in my part of D.C.
Emily in Jersey, grateful for sunshine.
And Bobby, how are you out in L.A.? Glad to have you with us.
You’re probably tired. You have been through a lot. I can’t keep up after it. So, if you would continue to be in conversation with one another. We’re going to be using some links here the next little while.

As we always do, my partner in crime, Tristan, is behind the scene manipulating the slide deck.
So, T., if would you go to the next one.

This is just to tell you everything that we have created together from September are all available online. Now, all of V is available on YouTube. I think the one exception is the Nicole Jones session, and he asked to make that exclusive to V. And everything else that we did is up on YouTube. And all of the things that we have done for V+ now, still find the password and you can get to it and it will remain there for a little while.

Imagine sometimes early next year we will make all of this available at the end of the day and our purpose is to make sure we get all of the information out so it can do as much good as it can. If you would, carry us forward, to let you know a couple of things we have coming up, first is Kevin Hunh, he was one of the creative voices behind creative morning and he knows about building community creative communities. I think we’re all creative on some level, the communications business.

He’s going to be joining us to talk about why community is so darned important and essential if you work in the communications spice think of yourself as a community builder. We have been saying for a while communication moves at the speed of trust and you trust folks you know so communities are increasingly essential, particularly now as we have learned this year.

With that, Kevin will be with us in a couple weeks’ time and Mr. T. take us forward. And then super excited about this. Dr. Sara King was recently communications teachers at UCLA, and she is going to talk to us about the role of community and the brain science behind social justice.

There’s a lot going on in your head when you talk about issues and advocacy and she’s going to help us tap into that with a couple of exercises to help us get in touch with the social justice aspects of your brain.

Go ahead to the next one and that will close it out for V+. Now, you get to stop hearing me yack at you. I will be back towards the end but let’s go ahead and pass it off to Marrianne. I think we’re going to start with a poll, but you will see, we struck the word there, communicating research not disseminating.

We will try to avoid as many $50 words as we can Go and Go with good plain old fashioned English: right?

Suffice it to say, let’s get into it and we will have a poll for everybody so get ready to respond in a quick minute.

Marrianne McMullen:

Thank you. I’m Marrianne McMullen, Director of Communication and Information at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. We want to do a couple of poll questions so we can get to know you and be responsive to who this audience is hereby. If you can get our first poll question up, it’s how frequently do you communicate about research?

So, take a minute everybody and else that one. In the meantime, with my fellow panelists I want to welcome you today to this panel on communicating research. We will be conducting this session in an interview format and then move to questions and discussions. I will introduce each panelist as I ask them a question.

In the world of communication, good research is currency. Journalists need credible sources to cite and policymakers need evidence they can trust when making decisions. But and communicating about research has its own unique set of challenges and it’s those challenges that we’re going to address together in the next hour. So, do we have there’s our poll results. So, of the people attending this session, we have about 46 people, you communicate about research a lot, so weekly, monthly, at least half of you are communicating at least monthly about research. Thank you.

So, as we present tips about research and communication, we’re going to move forward in this presentation from the evidence based for communicating about research to effective trust, to planning to crafting messages to engaging audiences and that’s kind of the four step path that we plan on taking you through today. But let’s continue to get to know you a little bit better: Let’s go with the second poll question. If we can, Tristan. And the second question is:

If your role is in communications, where do you work? And there are some options for you. While you’re answering that I want to let you know we have prepared a tip sheet take away for you as we have been planning this session and we have come up with a lot of tips and learned from each other and we want to share that learning with you so that will be available to you after this session. So, do we have results on that one?

Oh, look at that. A third of you work for nonprofit or advocacy organizations and nearly a third for Foundations. And only a small relatively small percentage in university and academic institutions. So, you are funding research. You are advocacy organizations and a lot of independent communication consultants. Excellent. Thank you so much.

So, to kick off the panel, I’m going to start with Lenore Neier, the communications manager at William T. Grant Foundation. W. T. Grant funds science research to improve the lives of young people and has been at the forefront of thinking how socially science research can influence policy.

Lenore can you give us a high-level description of how evidence informs research communication as well as tell us what you found out from your own survey of grantees on this topic?

Lenore Neier:

I would be happy to do that, majority of it’s wonderful to be here. And as Marrianne said we fund socially science research to improve outcomes for young people. Researchers often enter the field because they believe research findings and should make difference in the world but how do they get those findings in the hands of people that can use them. For the last 12 years the William T. Grant Foundation has been funding research on understanding and improving the use of research evidence in policy and practice. And what have we learned from more than 70 rigorous high-quality studies?

That dissemination alone is not enough to get research used. It implies a one way street. All you have to do is push the findings out in order to have them used. But convincing evidence exists that research use requires attention to engagement between researchers, decision makers and the intermediaries between them which includes the media. There’s an emerging body of evidence featuring the social side of evidence use. Relationships and trust are pathways which policy makers and practitioners acquire research, vault it and consider its use.

Now, on all of these findings were supported by grantees that I interviewed to learn more about their outreach activities. What I heard was that developing strong relationships was the bedrock upon which everything else evolved. Moreover, grant tease reported that the informal relationships that they developed were the most impactful. Informal presentations and briefings as well as the availability the availability to answer policymaker practitioner and journalist questions builds trust. Gran teams reported that these two way streets not only build the trust but are crucial of the research is to be at the table with a decision maker as they think through and develop policies. Now, raising the visibility of research findings through the media has a rural role to play. And, for example, one of our grantees that I interviewed said it was a great way to broadcast my findings more broadly and reach people I wouldn’t normally have access to. As a result of the media, I’m on the Rolodex of journalists and have been contacted by influential advocacy groups. Another said high quality journalists that can translate research to a broader audience can make a bigger impact and reach more people. It encourages the legislators to consider an issue that they didn’t think was important or hasn’t been aware of. So, what’s the takeaway from all of this? We can develop relationships with researchers built on mutuality, respect and trust and in turn help them develop relationships with journalists and/or decision makers. Because research evidence demonstrates that this can lead to collaborations, partnerships, increased respect for understanding of the research evidence, and in some cases directly influence policy. And with that I’m going to kick it back to you, Marrianne

Marrianne McMullen:

Thank you so much, Lenore. Now next we will talk about effective planning to get to some of the engaged that Lenore is talking about. But let’s do one more quick poll question so we can sure to address issues that are greatest concern to you as we proceed.

So, Tristan, if we could go to Question 3: In your work communicating about research what are your biggest pain points? This one takes a second to read.

Also, what brought up a lot of discussion among the panelists. Okay. Translating findings into plain language or actionable implications. There’s so much going back and forth between researchers and communicators. But we have a lot of “creating an effective impact strategy. How to measure the impact of communications, key can address that towards the end. Thank you all so much so engagement relationships are important and getting the research into the right hands and used by practitioners and policymakers but let’s back it up to the very beginning of the process. Jennifer Clark is a communications consultant based in North Carolina, and she has put a lot of thought into building trust between communicators and researchers. Jennifer can you walk talk to us about the process by which communicators can build that trust?

Yes. Thanks, Marrianne

Jennifer Clark:

Thanks, Marrianne. And thank you ComNet for presenting this topic. It’s one of my favorites to commiserate with. It seems like a lot of you didn’t need help building trust with researchers so you may have learned some things that I didn’t learn for many years. But before I became an independent consultant, I was a director of communications at the Institute for Policy Research, where I led a fairly small team. We were just two or three people at the time. And we released over a hundred publics a year. And now that I’m consulting and even smaller team of just one. So, building trust with researchers is I think important for anyone who communicates research but for those who may be the lone cause voice in a room, I think it’s especially important and my first tip to building that trust is just to recognize that every time a researcher hands their work off to you, they are placing their reputation in your hands. To them you aren’t just writing a press release or sending a tweet; you’re shaping how the world sees their life’s work and how their peers evaluate their contributions to the field. So, you would be wary, too.

But it took many heated discussions and track changes and comments on Word documents before I figured this out. But what I did, it allowed moo me to more effectively work with them. And also, I was able to offer better messaging solutions, so it made me had a better communicator. Over time, they began to trust that I didn’t just want to make them look dumb or that I was quote/unquote dumbing down their work which I’m sure some of you have heard many times before. But they realized that I wanted to help their work be understood and have an impact. And that’s what they want too. But they also want to be able to show their face at the next American Psychological Association conference or something, whatever it is. But by understanding this you can help them do both.

So, my second tip is that and this may be obvious but take an interest in the details of their work. I know communicators have a lot to juggle but if you’re able to carve out more time to ask those detailed questions about nuances of their data analysis, or about their broader field of research, I think the time that you invest can really pay off. I found that it not only opens up lines of communication, but it also has really made me better at what I do. Sometimes digging into the nuances of the methodology helped me figure out the most effective way to communicate something to a nonexpert audience without crucially without losing the integrity of the research.

And then my last tip is my absolutely favorite one, which is show your work. Researchers are trained to trust the evidence. And to get buy in for your communication strategies, just beat them at their own game. Gather your evidence and share your analysis and insights with them on a regular basis. For instance, did this 100 page report with 30 data tables and absolutely no charts and figures flop?

Or did this series of four, shorter reports with engaging figures get more reach?

This is your opportunity to prove that you are right. And showing them cold, hard evidence makes it easier to gain their buy in for next time.

There are many tools and resources for tracking and analyzing palm’s metrics which I won’t get into here but if you have any favorite ones drop them in the chat because I would like to know about them and I’m sure other people would too. And each organization is different and probably the metrics that are most meaningful to you will be different also. So, my advice is just to identify a reasonable number of metrics like, web visits or social media shares that you contract over time X have a process for sharing that with the research team at regular intervals. If it’s a quarterly meeting or staff meeting or whatever it is.

So, recap, I would say my top tips for building thrust with researchers are, one, remember their reputation is in your hands. Two, sweat the details and learn about the nuances of their work. And three, gather your evidence for how palms can help with research. Those are my tips, and I will turn it back over to Marrianne.

Marrianne McMullen:

Thank you Jennifer. Jennifer is in a lot of ways responsible for this session because we attended her session in Austin. Lenore, you and I were sitting at the same table and that’s where we started talking about, we need to do a session just on communicating about research. So, thank you Jennifer.

On planning front, I want to quickly show you an example of a detailed rollout plan you can develop as a first step to having conversations that build trust as well as being very strategic about thousand get your research out into the field. It starts with sitting down with researchers and it helps to have a set list of what all you need to develop. So, I am you can go to the next slide, Tristan. And then I’m going to share my screen. So.

What you should be seeing now is a rollout plan. This is for a report we recently released: COVID 19 and child welfare. We were releasing original research on the impact of COVID 19 on child welfare systems and on child maltreatment reporting of. Sore for me having this rollout team, everybody who is involved, any time you need to send an email, the names are right there because I could be working with for different teams at any point on.

So, this has our own staff, Casey funder programs and their PR firm, it’s always nice to have that little extra help when you’re working on a rollout. The title of the report so it’s handy. Worked very closely with the researchers on the top line message. This starts with cutting and pasting the top findings from the report, some of the summary information and then you go through the hard work of translating because often what is in the record is not good for public communication.

It’s just too dense. It has too much lingo. It has acronyms, all sorts of things that you really work on getting this top line message together. Once you have that in your key findings, it’s all in one collective place, everybody can see it and get so it. You can do it for shaping your cover notes no to the media or doing your posts, any communication to leadership pay, look, this just came out. So, having that one spot where you have your recommendation, how systems can make adaptive changes. Then your visuals. These are pulled right from the report. The first ones. These are things that you could use on social media or other communication.

Then we let our graphic designer to the same data and then the graphic designer produces something a little more user friendly that we can use particularly in social media. And that’s all-in-one place. So, if everybody is oh, where is that graphic, I want to throw it in a tweet. It’s all in one document. Key goals and audiences. For us we have four key audiences that are part of who we regularly communicate to. Policy make percent, implementers and knowledge developers which is other researchers. Rarely do we have come an audience doesn’t fit. Zero sow we sit and say which policymaker are we talking about? Which states?

Is California cutting edge on child welfare policies? Let’s make sure we get to the right people in the California law enforcement is

Permissions this is something very unique research. You have IRB permission, the permission of each data source they’re using. It’s so important to make sure that everyone has signed off. If you have a federal contract, they often need 3rd days to review what you have done. This targeted medium.

This is personal where you say this journalist has done this story and this story and they may be interested. And I track who I reached out to and when; so, I don’t forget what I have done.

Social media plan. Come up with a social media kit. You will get end up getting more with the media. Very important, your scheduled deliverables based on all of the conversations record of the above, here are all of the things that you’re going to produce or that you decided you’re going to produce and here is who is doing it and what the status of it again, just tracking. I. don’t have a good memory, so this is my memory.

Finally, your scheduled rollout activities. This is what you do on each day and your whole team can say it’s Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. I need to be doing X so you can do and often there’s a lot this one wasn’t very complicated. There’s advance calls because there’s people that you want to know about the research before it comes out and sometimes this could be 7 days activities.

And then finally rollout reports hitting on the metrics that Jen was talking about. We do a thorough report on how it’s doing 72 hours and another 11 weeks out and it goes over all of the page hits, download, social media responses and clippings are also included in that report so that’s a little bit about how Chapin Hall does the planning. And I will stop sharing my screen and we will go ahead to the next slide.


So also, on the planning front but moving into messaging, you can work with more than just researchers and communicators. You can expand your planning team to other partners including advocates. Emily Krone Phillips here. Can you talk to us about partnerships and how they can help planning and managing?

Emily Krone Phillips:

Hi everyone. It’s fun to see familiar names on the chat. I’m going to talk a little bit about today some of my experiences in my past professional life, which was at the consortium on Chicago school research at the University of Chicago which produced education research for the improvement of Chicago Public Schools.

And what I’m going to talk about are the different roles that partnerships can play because they can really play a lot of roles and in fact the roles that they play can speak to a lot of the challenges that we have been talk went about today already. And I have used partnerships as validators. I have used partners as intellectual partners for the research. And I have used partnerships as basically a built-in network.

So, I’m going to go through those three different things and there are different ways to use partners but those are the three I wanted to focus on today. So, when I talk about a validator, I am really talking about somebody who can serve as a validator, sometimes a spokesperson or translator. Basically, they’re going to say what you hope they will say when called about the research.

Sometimes it just means talking with people ahead of time who are the people who are likely to be called by the media to ensure that he have heads up about what is in the report and if they’re willing to give it upper. Sometimes that I will not say the things because they don’t have a Ph.D. to cut through the jargon and sometimes it means they’re going to go further with the implications and maybe the researchers themselves are. I noticed in the chat there was a question about how you convince researchers to sacrifice a little bit of the recession.

And how do you convince them to go a little further with the ump indications of their research. The truth is sometimes you just can’t, and they won’t. But sometimes if you get a partnership right, that’s who can be the people who are going to move the implications forward, who are going to move the research in a way that the researchers just can’t because it’s either it goes beyond what they think the research says or because they don’t want to be pigeonholed as an advocate.

One of the times a validator is important is when something going to be really controversial, and a lot of times when you are releasing a report, the big danger is somebody is going to pick a little piece of it up and blow it up into something you didn’t want it to be, and you don’t agree with the implication, so he is part of this is about getting on board, around your messages ahead of time.

I will give you an example. When I was in Chicago, we put out a report about school closings, and if you have live in Chicago or follow education you know that that’s you one of the most painful and just controversial things that a school district can do. And we’re out a report to give people actionable evidence to move forward after this mass school closure in Chicago. And we were really worried because we had partnerships with both the Chicago public schools and a lot of community groups who had strongly zero opposed the actions of the Chicago public schools, so wheat did was we worked for you a few months ahead of time with different community groups and not surprise I rely the research had things both sides liked and both things both sides really, really did not like.

Through this long process we were able to get to the point neither side torpedoed it as it came out and the story came about how we learned from what happened in Chicago rather than about a shouting match about whether it was good research and what you’re aiming for. The other two things that you can use partnerships for, intellectual partners, sometimes people will bring knowledge that isn’t about the research.

We partnered for example with a group that was very knowledgeable about attendance. We were supposed to be with the mayor’s office about attendance because we had done a research report about how important preschool attendance was and the mayor’ office is like let’s have pizza part parties to encourage attendance and we were like, no, what horrible idea. Luckily, we had this awesome partner that had been working deeply with school districts. And they would say pizza parties are a great idea, but we can talk about chronic asthma as one of the reasons. And they were able to get deeply into the real issues there in a way that, as researchers, we didn’t know what all of the real issues were mind behind the findings that we had.

Another way to use partners are Just as incredible networking opportunities. A lot of people mentioned not having the resources to be able to have the kind of impact you want. If you work with partner, they may have the things that you lack. If you can build partnership with other people who have those relationships that’s another good way to get your research out there. So, I will end there

Marrianne McMullen:

That’s great. Thank you so much, Emily. Partnerships are so important, more important in research than I think in any other thing I would work in communications for.

Tristan, next slide. So, continuing to focus on messaging, Jennifer Amdur Spitz is a consultant based in Chicago and he’s done excellent work combining storytelling with sharing data. Can you tell us about the importance of story telephoning with research results and show us what that can look like?

Jennifer Amdur Spitz:

Sure, thanks, Marrianne. Thanks for those attending this session. We have had a great time planning it. I have been using research is an important part of most communication strategies because it really tells us and helps to define a problem. And it also helps us understand whether we’re solving of that problem.

So, there’s the summit research and there are stories to tell all along the way. So, what I look at is the data that tells us what we should be paying attention to and it’s the storytelling that lets us relate to that data and makes it really. It helps us encourage people to care about it, to so what kind of story in the world. By putting the data and story together that’s what we should be doing, not just getting the general public and the news media to carry about a story but presenting at conference and to peers everybody relates better to stories. So, I’m going to tell a little bit of a story about one of our projects and so I’m going to take over the screen here

Okay. Can you guys see my screen? Yes? Great.

So, this is a project that we worked on. And this brings things together. This is the town in Depew Illinois. It’s an environmental catastrophe. There’s data showing that there’s contamination from closed industry. It’s 9 ooh 50 acres

Alison Gross:

Jennifer, you’re not showing us the website.

Jennifer Amdur Spitz:

Thank you.

How about now?

All right.

So, this illustrates the importance of and bringing partners together. This Depew, Illinois, is a Superfunded site and it’s in the middle of a town. For 16 years they had evidence upon evidence of the contaminants there and nothing was being done. So northwestern law school was representing the today. The northwestern chemistry definitely helped put together this data, and we cited a map.

So, we have a video here that tells the history fire fight the town. You can take a tour and see the different contamination sites. Each witch has a little video that will show you around the town. Then we took the data and put it on a map. So, this is where all of that data that had been accumulating in the research to show that there’s all of these issues becomes real for people.

So, these are all of the different samples in this beautiful town is along a river in Illinois. If you want to dive in here chick you can see what is in the sample and view the contamination details and expand the raw data and it will show you what the levels are, and you can click on them and it will open up and tell you know what the impact of that is on the human body of.

So, after 16 years, we started to get some momentum. We got a lot of media coverage. Then we were able to give people a way to access this that made it real to them, because there are people in the town who are telling their stories.

We then, working with the chemistry Department of Northwestern University, this is going back to the partnerships, how do you deputize people or get more people engaged and to care about your issue. So, we created a curriculum using the map. What students can do is going to this map, choose a location, find the schools, and then create their own map of how much contamination a person would get if they lived in that town and went to school every day.

So that starts to make it real for the students in the town. And then what that is they start to own, and you have discussions about the data. And this is the end of a video. It’s a little summary video about the citizen scientist, National Science Foundation funded project to help students use this data across the country. [ Video ]

Let’s talk about all of things we as citizens can do. We talked about letters to the editor, social media, letters to legislator yes. This whole project is about teaching students that science is not just a bunch of boring facts in a textbook but has real world application yes. They will remember the chemistry that they’re doing better than they will ever remember reading it out of a book or listening to me lecture about it.

This has been a real good experience. And we’re definitely going to do it again.

Jennifer Amdur Spitz:

So, with all of these different partners and all of these students doing this little project within their own schools what happens is then they start writing those letters to the editor and we get some more voices advocating for this issue.

So, this is just from this spring and now the Superfund site is starting to get cleaned up. They remediated all of the soil in the resident’s back yards let’s year and that was a huge project and also going full C this continues to take land and water samples to show the magnitude of the problem, but we can also see it’s getting involved and we can also see that the social impact of making that visible, making the study visible can start to generate real results.

Marrianne McMullen:

That’s fantastic, Jennifer and it’s so great to see video which I know you specialize in and brought in as another tool about research. Christian we can get G. to the next question slide. Now, I want to bring it back to the engagement aspect that Lenore first talked about when we are circulating research. Alison gross external affairs of NORC in Chicago. Alison, tell us about how you invite the public into your data?

Alison Gross:

I’m happy to do so. I’m so happy to be here. As my colleagues on the panel have said, we have learned I hope those of you joining us today are enjoying this as well because I’m having a blast. So first just a sentence or two about NORC.

NORC at the University of Chicago is a nonprofit nonpartisan and objective research institution. We have been around since 1941. And I think it was in one of the questions, our researchers have tended not want to get out in front of the data and talk about it. They just want to deliver the data and they’re like they say the data speaks for itself.

Over the last few years, we have really leaned in to empowering our researchers to own the data and the research and think of themselves as thought leaders, and we are building a pretty robust thought leadership program as part of our communicating data plan. Also I think I just want to mention, we have also been leaning into this hunger for data and information that I think we have all been experiencing when you look at Web sites like vox and 538 and the Upshot that also in the last 12 months with the coronavirus, I don’t know about you but I’m obsessed with the maps and the charts in the “New York Times” about all of the hot spots and of course with the election, were the polls right and what data was accurate or not accurate so it’s a great time to share your research and share your data.

The public is hungry for it. And by the public I mean basically any of our stakeholders, any of your stakeholders. For us at NORC it could be other researchers, academics, journalists are very much our audience as well as the general population. And alongside this, our organization is very much driven by a commitment to data transparency and data literacy. So, we believe that more data we can put out in the world and make available to others as well as give people tools to explore the data or to understand the data, the better we all are as a country and as citizens.

So, I am actually going share my screen and show a few examples of some things that we have been cog at NORC that I think you will all find interesting. And I’m going to start first. I have to just move something over. If any of you have ever taken sociology class. You have probably come across one of our best-known data collection projects. It’s called a general social survey or the GSS. It is a survey of Americans, attitudes and perceptions on a whole range of topics from extramarital affairs to confidence in institutions. Pretty appropriate for the current climate.

And the data has been collected since 1972. There have been periods of time it’s collected annually and now we’re on every other year cycle of capturing this data. It’s tremendous. We have a large number of researchers and analysts who wait for the day that the newest round of data is released and by wait, I mean we realize of release its a particular time and within an hour, we see that there are stories and downloads of the data.

This data gets used in a variety we created something we called the GSS data explorer. That’s what you’re looking at now. It’s a web-based tool that allows folks to download the data and explore it, to create projects to save it. So, you could be an academic or a graduate student. You could just be you or me and be interested in this. And if you’re a real data person, you can go ahead and download those raw files and knock yourself out. But if you’re like me, you probably just want to know what the top trends are. So, we created a key trends figure.

Again, this is all from the data. Here, I picked this beforehand; so, I picked a question under application. The question was basically how much confidence do you have in the Supreme Court? And here what you can look at is over time people’s confidence level in the sport you can see the text for the question because those of us that work in research know is how the question is asked and the wording of the question can also be very interesting and then their notes.

Again, this could be both for the spirit and for the general public and a journalist. A great way to explore some really important data. The next thing I wanted to show you is the drug overdose we call it the opioid death tool. But it’s a tool that takes publicly available data about opioid deaths and misuse throughout the United States on a county-by-county level.

Now, the story here is that the first match that we did that looked at opioid misuse data was done in partnership with all of our community’s partners, the Appalachian regional commission, and that tool was just focused on Appalachian and it was looking at where primarily like where there were overdoses, did that connect to injuries, did it connect to poverty levels. That received so much attention and was deemed so useful that the USDA rural commission came to us and said let’s do this for the whole country.

So, what you can see and I’m sorry, I seem to have lost my mouse, so there we are you can dive into this and really dig N this is publicly available data. We had our folks work on this and it was funded by the USDA rural commission. It’s another way to get information out especially to policymakers, elected officials, people are trying to figure out how do we combat what is happening in our country, in our world, in our state.

So that’s another way you can do it. So those are two different approaches into the data. And then lest you think everything takes a whole lot of money and expertise and designers we just released our latest speak spotlight releases. These are tip chem we founded they say ourselves, research releases. We don’t do a report. We write a press release.

Our researchers come up with the questions. We make sure that we think the questions, or we discuss whether or not the questions are germane to topics of interest out in the world right now because our whole goal here so get attention in the media for these topics so that NORC gets as a source of reliable and timely data. This is our third annual flu vac seem quick study.

As you can see National Influenza Vaccination Week is next week. We had we put this out in the field and here is where I said it’s pretty simple. This is it’s. It’s a press release. We do have some graphics. They’re static, not the fancy ones that I showed you before. But they get right to the heart of the questions that are on many people’s minds about flu vaccinations. And right now, although as I said we have done this every year for the last this is our third year because it’s very topical. It’s more prominent because of the comorbidity and how that might influence flu vaccinations and that’s another example of something pretty steroid forward, pretty easy that you can do.

So, three different ways to engage different kinds of audiences. We promote all of these on social. Had it not been for the pandemic, the overdose tool, this one, would have had an event on the hill in a briefing with the U.S. DA as the host. But information of the pandemic came into play and we didn’t get to do that. So that’s those are my big things.

Make your data as relevant as possible. Whether it’s the raw data or putting it in so they can play with it themselves or guess them graphics to help them understand what the main take aways are with the data, always partnering with the researchers to make sure that we’re not misrepresenting something. Thanks.

Marrianne McMullen:

Terrific Alison. If any of you haven’t spent time on NORC’s website, I encourage you. They’re just a wonderful model for how had to do it; right.

So, we have taken you on a journey from the building trust with researchers and the evidence based, the research based for doing communication to effective planning to crafting messaging, to engaging audiences. And so now we want to engage you. So, I’m going to hand it back over to Sean to moderate Q&A.

Sean Gibbons:

We have a couple of questions and a little bit of time. The first one comes from the other thing, you can put your questions in the Q&A box, but you can vote for the questions that you want to hear. First one comes from Ryan. He says how do you find and build relationships with journalists who might be interested in the work you are trying to share?

Anyone wants to take a swing in building relationships with journalists.

Jennifer Clark:

I’m happy zero to try to start us off. So, I think you know, it’s knowing like communications is knowing you. And I think with journalists it’s the same thing. If you have I usually base it around specific reports. So, if I have, you know, like childcare report or women’s maybe first participation report I would go to the reporters who have been covering that and begin the relationship. I think one thing with research that is very effective is doing is pitching reporters ahead of your release so you do embargo you send them the report under embargo and say, you know, like a week beforehand, here is the report. It’s embargoed until X time, X date, you know, let me know what you think of it, let me know if you want to talk to one of the authors about it and then they have that advanced notice they can write a release or they can write a story about it ahead of the release.

Sean Gibbons:

In a prior life I worked in a think tank land. What I would tell you is if you’re trying to build a relationship with a journalist around a tactical thing like getting out a report it’s going to be hard. And what you want to do is build relationships. So, the idea is, it’s sort of a beautiful symbiotic relationship where hopefully journalists covering the beads what have of what you’re interested in are sharing information with where and your organization and sometimes you’re feeding them information or redirecting them.

You may not have the answer to the question but may become a valuable source so they can find things and they’re working on a deadline and in the news, business increasingly working with limited resources; right?

So, I don’t think it’s a matter maybe you’re being strategic about this what are the top five, 10, or 12 outlets that you me to have relationship with. And let’s research out to the reporters. Even on a further life I worked on CNN. They weren’t to have someone as long as there’s no quid pro quo. A true communication. And they may want to but by in large it’s about relationship building.

Next question, Janet says, could you share the link to the NORC press release?

Alison do you have that and could you put that into the chat for us.


And other questions, you will see we put all of the links in here, to these tips into Google Doc and you will find those in the chat as well. Other questions as they may come in. Maybe I could put this out to the group, because as I said, I have had a little experience here myself. What is of the single biggest pain for each of you. Maybe we can do this like final “Jeopardy!” real fast.

Alison, in your work with researchers and getting work out in the world what is your biggest pain

It’s timing. We’re always bouncing between the thoughtful, well planned in advance strategic release and the one that pops up where we get an email at 10:00 at night that says oh, by the way, my client is doing a press event or releasing this press release in the report with some big thing happening, tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., should we do something with that?

You never want to say no, but it’s timing. How do we juggle we do 400 projects a year. We did not do big releases for all 400. We probably do a couple a month that are really meaningful. And it’s balancing all of that stuff coming at us.

Sean Gibbons:

What about you?

Marrianne McMullen:

Most research isn’t newsworthy. It’s interesting to a set of people study Ugh! the thing and it becomes a background point for journalists but it’s not a headline. That’s been my biggest adjustment as a communicator is just searching that and targeting my audience much more specifically than the media.

Sean Gibbons:


Emily Krone Phillips:

I think trying to figure out how you are very small just this kind of piggybacks on what Marrianne said but how your very small piece of the puzzle fifth in with the larger messages out there and so trying to figure out if you’re just releasing a study, how that has to do with the whole larger discussion, and really kind of realizing that one study in and of itself isn’t going to move anything.

Sean Gibbons:

Jennifer, same question to you? Let’s go by the alphabet again.

Jennifer Amdur Spitz:

Piggyback on what Emily said, I think a lot of times there’s expectations around research that because I work for clients and you are managing those expectations and then, you know, helping the client understand that they’re trying to make an impact in the world with that research and it may not be the whole study that’s valuable but a piece of it that can really advance the conversation and kind of pivoting from that this is my baby and I want to deliver it to the world to what is it about that baby that is going to make it have the impact you have and having them crack that strategy as well.

Jennifer Clark, what about you?

Jennifer Clark:

My biggest once and this was a question that was in the that is a so I will answer it as part are of that is, researchers who really want to pull who love the details of their research, and who are not convinced about the need to pull out the highlights or to do the plain language aspect of it, and so my work around for that or what I have done, and this could get me kicked out of Communications Network.

Maybe it’s not good best practice. But it’s that I have done both, so if there’s a report that is 50 pages or 65 pages and I cannot get tomorrow narrow the focus or to make the findings more, you know, effective in any way, I put a highlights page at the front of it that side what I need it to do. And I know like 95 percent people are only going to read that page, and then, you know, the biggest gripe I would have are the figure headers. They would want to have, like, the funding’s ratio between men and women aged 18 or older in the United States 2018, and that would be the title of a chart. And I would just say, can you just say that?

So, having it with a big header for me and smaller header for them has been effective because, you know, they have a point that if their report is going to also be used by people who are researchers, they need a certain amount of information, but I need, and other people need other kind of information in order to understand it. Last question goes to Janet who comes back. She said jumping on the point Emily made how do you help researchers talk not only about their research, but reference related to the topic to help there’s so much on COVID related issues how do you help your research stand out with your own work as an expert.

Marrianne McMullen:

Well, they all do reviews of literature hear time they do work. Most researchers are pretty broadly familiar with the work in their field, and that makes them, you know, more effective as sources. And one other tip I want to get in here is that there was an academic study. I’m going to look for it, that positively correlated presence on Twitter with the frequency with which the researchers research is cited in other people’s papers. Most researchers don’t care that much about Twitter but they care very much about their number of citations and other papers so there’s been real evidence created that correlates social media with academic citations.

Sean Gibbons:

I hope this has been a useful hour. Thank you for your time. We know everyone has had a lot going on. We hope everyone has a restful and safe Thanksgiving. One thing that we didn’t talk about which we know is important is the manner in which you release research. So many of us are tempted to put this out in PDF. And machines can’t read PDFs because they’re essentially photographs of data and information so if you’re looking for that research make something up a researcher in stock home is looking for data from NORC in Chicago and NORC doesn’t do this but if you did and put it in PDF, you will never find it. If it put it on Google, Google can only see what they read. If you’re posting it as a PDF, it’s a huge disservice. And we will share that I think we did a webinar on that some type later.

Thank you to everybody for making some time. That’s to Marva for ASL interpretation and Alan for captioning. We will be back with Kevin soon.

For now, please be safe and well and we will talk to y’all very, very soon. Thanks everybody. And thanks for joining us and leading the session, Alison, Marrianne, Emily, and two Jennifers.


* indicates required

Join The Network

Community, learning, and leadership to help you do good, better.

Become a member