So, you’ve completed fieldwork, analysed the findings and it’s time to share the fruits of your labour with your colleagues and stakeholders. This is your opportunity to showcase all your hard work and ensure your project makes the desired impact within your university.
Are you confident it will?
If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, then read on for some hints and tips from our higher education researchers.
What do you want to achieve from the research?
You may remember this was the first question that we asked you to consider at the very beginning of this series, in ‘How to run a successful project’. Remind yourself of what the ultimate aim of the research is, do you want to…?
- Inform a decision or strategy such as whether or not to run a new course
- Persuade employers to offer work placements to your students or attract prospective students to the university
- Change (i.e. improve) the experience of students living in halls residences
The type of message you want to convey from the research will influence how you present your findings. For example, a call to action could take the form of an impressive stat or powerful quote from the research appearing on a social media post or online advertisement. Whereas if you are looking to implement change, bringing colleagues together at a workshop event to present findings and encourage further discussion and planning would be more effective.
Who is your audience?
It is really important to consider who your audience is when thinking about how to share your research findings and what the focus of your message should be. Be mindful of:
- How senior and influential they are and what decisions they will be making off the back of your research
- How varied in terms of role, department, remit or sector they are. How does this affect what the emphasis of the message should be?
- How much time do they have and what level of engagement with / detail from the research do they need?
If you have multiple audiences invested in your project, consider sharing findings in different formats or styles to maximise the impact of your research among each of these audiences.
Different ways of sharing research
There are many ways you can share your research and for it to be used by colleagues and stakeholders. Below we discuss the main methods of dissemination and how to make the most of each.
Reports are the most appropriate way by which to share a lot of / detailed information for example in cases where evidence is needed to support a decision or strategy. However, be careful not to make the report overly-long which will deter stakeholders from reading it. To maximise engagement with a report, follow these basic principles:
- Include a clear and succinct executive summary at the beginning which provides an overview of the key points. If someone is short on time or is only interested in some of the research, they should be able to find the most salient points quickly but also have a good grasp of the overall message from this section.
- Clear signposting to key information through the use of chapter headings and summaries
- Powerful charts and graphics to demonstrate key stats visually and remove the need for lengthy, inaccessible prose
Slide decks are a great way to share findings in a very visual and interactive way especially when delivered by an engaging and knowledgeable presenter. When planning your presentation, remember to:
- Keep each slide focussed on just one main point, finding or message. Make it obvious what that key point is using a headline statement and then talk through the supporting evidence
- Keep your slides clutter-free, if they look too busy or contain too much text your audience is likely to switch off
- Include a recommendation on each slide or after every few slides rather than saving them up for the end. This will give your stakeholders time to consider the implications of those findings before launching into the follow-up discussion
Workshops and roundtable events
Bringing stakeholders together for an extended period of time means that you can really exhibit your research and demonstrate just how useful a tool it can be in guiding discussion and informing decisions. Such events are very valuable if you or your stakeholders are unsure or have different opinions about what the next steps should be. When it comes to workshops think about:
- Planning out your session in advance including the role your research will play, how you will divide up the sessions and what you want to achieve from each
- Who should attend the workshop – how many people and how varied are they in terms of role? To make the most of the discussion you want to ensure that all participants can contribute fully but that a range of views or ideas are covered
- The key questions that require answers by the end of the session or the outputs required such as a list of recommendations, actions points or KPIs.
Infographics and similarly visual outputs are an eye-catching way to summarise stories such a student’s application journey or a graduate’s journey into the labour market which take place over an extended period of time and involve a sequence of key milestones, touchpoints or challenges. Quotes, statistics and scores such as a Net Promoter Score are a quick, easy and powerful way to add some clout to such outputs.
A note on recommendations and KPIs
One sure-fire way of guaranteeing your research has an impact is to produce a set of recommendations or KPIs against which you can measure progression and performance over a period of time. Don’t just provide a set of conclusions at the end of your project, which will be soon forgotten or require further thinking time on the part of colleagues to actually transform them into an action. Do the extra thinking yourself and help guide your stakeholders to an outcome or decision.
For example, upon completing your research with local employers about sandwich placements, don’t just conclude that there’s more opportunity to place students with larger local employers. Instead recommend that in the short term the focus should be to place students with larger employers while the employer engagement team work with smaller employers to generate other placement opportunities.
If putting together a list of KPIs, remember that this doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list, most importantly you want each target to be achievable and quantifiable.
Make sure the impact of your research doesn’t fade with time. Just because the findings have been shared and the workshop had, it doesn’t mean that you should stop talking about the project. Here are some handy tips for keeping the research alive, ensuring it makes a lasting impression and demonstrates ongoing value:
- Revisit the research in three / six / twelve months’ time and review which of the recommendations have and haven’t been actioned. Of those that haven’t why not and what can be done to help action them?
- Consider what additional or wider questions the study threw up, whether these have been addressed or merit further research
- Reference the research in any supporting documentation produced (e.g. on strategy changes) to emphasise just how useful it was
- Track change / improvement over time e.g. increase in application numbers, improved employment outcomes and attribute it to the research where appropriate
Ask each participant whether there is anything they need in order to take part in the research at the point of recruitment. This could include things like translators or making sure written materials are accessible, but could also include having a friend, family member or other trusted person present during the interview. If doing the research online, make sure they have the necessary technology and software.
Ethics and data protection
Along with your topic guide, it is useful to prepare a checklist to go through before you start the interview. This should include:
- Has the participant read, understood and signed the relevant consent forms and information leaflets?
- Have you made the participant aware of how you will use, store and delete the data you collect and their rights under GDPR?
- Do you have explicit permission to record the interview?
- Does the participant have any questions for you about the materials you have shared or about the research more broadly?
Analysing your discussion
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to qualitative analysis. Different methods and tools work for different people. Below we discuss some common tools and approaches.
- Analysis starts within the interview itself: By making sure you are prepared for your interview and know the topic guide and key research questions well, you create ‘mental space’ to carry out informal analysis during the conversation. During the discussion, ask yourself “what does this mean for my research questions? What are the implications?” This allows you to probe topics relevant to your objectives during the interview and build on what you already know.
- Write up a short summary of the interview as soon as possible after completing it: Writing up the key findings or themes, as well as anything which surprised you, shortly after the interview will save you valuable time when you move into the analysis and reporting phase. If the interview revealed valuable quotes or case studies you should highlight this in your notes.
- Data management is a necessary pre-cursor to analysis: Before you can draw out the key themes in your data, you need to organise it. This might involve things like colour coding, categorising, mapping or counting and will help you get a better overview of the information you’ve collected.
- Identify ‘keyness’, develop overarching themes and a narratives: ‘Keyness’ is not merely based on the frequency of recurrence (i.e. what most people said) but also relevance (e.g. something said once could be the final ‘piece in the puzzle’). This should always relate back to the objectives.