In recent years there has been increasing recognition of the importance of strategic research communication. Health research organisations need to be able to communicate their research effectively to increase the probability that the findings influence policy and practice, and benefit those in greatest need. Many research funders are making communications a requirement of research funding. This paper reflects on the experience in developing and implementing communications strategies of several Research Programme Consortia funded by the Department for International Development.
Different research topics will require different communications approaches in order to be effective. This is reflected in the diversity of strategies employed by different research programmes. Strategic research communications designed to influence policy and practice require different skills and expertise from those required for carrying out research and writing it up for publication in academic journals. Therefore researchers involved in communicating research should be supported in this work. One of the ways in which research programme consortia have sought to do this is through convening workshops to develop the communications skills of researchers from partner organisations. These have proven invaluable. Another way of providing ongoing support to those involved in communicating research is through a Communications Community of Practice. Where this has been used it has proven a good way to support researchers both with ideas and resources, but also a strong sense of belonging to a community that shares a common concern with communication. Developing strong partnerships with research users, other research organisations, knowledge intermediaries and other stakeholders is vital for effective communication.
Embracing the challenges and opportunities presented by communicating research to influence policy practice is vital if research is to have maximum possible impact, and demonstrate its worth at a time when funding for health and development activities is at risk. Sharing lessons learnt in this process between research programmes is important to support this work.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011), 9 (Suppl 1): S15 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S15]
Designing and implementing a communications strategy: lessons learnt from HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health Research Programme Consortia