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Section VI: Bringing RAP to the decision-making realm: Effective communication and use

Section introduction
38. Research communication for RAP: Planning for optimal use of communication opportunities throughout the research process and effective use of findings
39. Visualizing data collection and the presentation of RAP findings: Enhancing qualitative research
40. A summary of the conference panel: Effective communication of research data to decision makers

Section introduction

The initial planning of the conference had been completed when those reviewing the agenda noticed that there was no place scheduled for a discussion of the planned communication of research results. Subsequently a session was developed which was intended to focus on the application of communication principles to studies such as those to be presented during the conference. However, in preparing the session it was found that applying such principles had implications beyond effective dissemination of results. They learned that communication principles could be effectively and appropriately applied at all phases of the research process; beginning with the planning of the study. This perspective led to presentations on what Gleason and Hursh-Cesar call "Research Communication."

The panel members noted in their introductory remarks that this session had been placed last on the conference agenda and expressed concern that communication planning, when applied to research in development, is too often an afterthought consisting of requests to communication professionals or health education specialists for help in preparing report covers, overhead transparencies and graphics. They noted that those working with RAP and RRA/PRA used data gathering techniques highly dependent on a strong knowledge of communication theory and practical communication skills. Yet, these principles and skills were often not applied ensuring the optimal use of data from their studies or the optimal use of the study process to communicate with community members and officials.

Umit Kartoglu, another panel member, provided a short provocative piece based on his contention that visualization of data should be well planned and that the new small camcorders provide a powerful tool to complement both qualitative and quantitative research.

Mark Rasmuson, Director of the USAID-supported HEALTHCOM at the Academy of Educational Development, gave a presentation demonstrating computer graphics and outlining various principles for effective presentations.

38. Research communication for RAP: Planning for optimal use of communication opportunities throughout the research process and effective use of findings

Case study demonstrating planned research communication: The "contagion route" in Afghanistan1
Elements of the research communication system
Using the research communication overlays to the optimal dissemination of data
Training in research communication
Audiences for training
Training in research communication
Training in source and audience segmentation
Training in research communication planning
Evaluating research communication

by Gary R. Gleason and Gerald Hursh-César

Gary R. Gleason and Gerald Hursh-César work at Intercultural Communication, Inc. where they continue to promote training in RAP and the application of Research Communication.

This paper is an initial attempt to define operationally what the authors are calling "Research Communication." They argue strongly that much of the research done in the service of social development does not feed effectively into the policy and programme decision making arenas where scarce resources are being allocated and technical choices made. Using lists, examples and charts, they build a case for training in and application of principles taken from communication and journalism to the research process. This paper reflects two presentations by its joint authors at the conference which generated numerous questions and interest. Research Communication has since been developed into a principel tool of the USAID-supported global project on "Data for Decision Making in Health." Research Communication has also been developed into a training module in a new workshop called "RAP+." The first RAP+ workshop was held in Brasov, Romania in March 1992 with support from the UNU and UNICEF. The workshop aimed at orienting a group of 21 participants in qualitative research, research communication and the need to set problem-based research agendas. - Eds.

IF WE APPLY the principles and practices of the communication field to social research can we improve the process and the effects of research?

This paper introduces the concept and techniques of "Research Communication." Research communication is, beginning at the earliest stages of project planning, the deliberate, systematic use of communication principles to improve the design, collection, dissemination, use, and continued use of social research data.

Overlaying principles from the communication field onto the research process at the design stage forces the research to include planned resources and activities aimed both at generating demand for the results and at effectively communicating the results to all relevant audiences.

Those who work in research communication planning have several operating assumptions:

1. Data don't stand alone: Better data are needed for better decisions. But data do not stand alone. Without the "bookends" of systematic planning at the beginning and appropriate presentation and dissemination at the end, data will not be used optimally. Moreover, once used, the data are still alive to be reconfigured, synthesized, or re-analyzed for other decision-making needs.

2. Know information needs: Though varied and complex, the information needs of decision-makers can be better understood. This better understanding will improve data-gathering priorities and methodologies, data analysis, the media and focus of data presentation, and the identification of present and potential users.

3. Data demand is unmet: There is an unmet demand for good research data. Decision-makers, at all levels in all sectors, want better data. Decision-makers themselves, through feedback on their uses of data, can influence and motivate the professional work of those involved in data gathering and processing.

4. Presentation improves relevance: The demand for and use of data are strongly related to the perceived link of the information to issues that users see as important. The relevance of information can be improved through greater simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and timeliness of the information brought to decision-makers. Thus, how you say it is as important as what is said.

5. Data have many lives: A single set of data can have many lives and live in a variety of forms for many different users and uses. Changes in data use can be anticipated in a dissemination plan that targets a widening audience of users in formal and informal health channels. The concept of data users is dynamic, not static. They move health-related information upward, laterally, and downward inside and outside of the sponsoring organization in the form of speeches, press releases, memos, books, articles, videotapes, audio-cassettes, exhibits, conferences, workshops, staff meetings, photographs, flip charts, and other forms.

6. Tell how and why: Better information is needed at all points along the development continuum - from the strategies of project design in high government agencies to the tactics of eliciting community support at the end of the chain. "Better" information is that which emphasizes the questions of "why" and "how" as well as the questions of "what" and "how many."

In this present volume, research communication aims specifically at improving the demand for better data in the health decision-making process to bring about changes that produce more efficient and effective health policy, implementation, and benefits.

Of course, social change occurs in the context of social systems. Accordingly, an appropriate change-strategy should be supported with a systemic information approach. Thus, at the earliest stage of research planning and budgeting, research communication is the deliberate, appropriate allocation of resources to improve information-getting, information-using, information-sharing, and information-response. It is a strategy designed to reveal and to strengthen the interrelationships among the many uses and users of a given data set and, in the process, to strengthen the links to other data sets.

Case study demonstrating planned research communication: The "contagion route" in Afghanistan1


Drought plagued Afghanistan in the early 1970s, increasing water-borne diseases among children. After three years of a large UNICEF well-drilling programme, it was generally observed that the incidence and prevalence of water-carried diseases had not been affected much by the provision of potable water.

The UNICEF Regional Office designed a small, brief participatory observation study carried out by two female Afghan anthropologists. At two well sites, the women mingled daily with other local women, for whom the well was their source of water as well as social interaction. It was generally observed that the women did not clean their water jugs, and covered the jugs against insects with a rag that they also used to wash themselves.

After making friends, the anthropologists accompanied several women to their homes. There they found that the rag was also often used to clean the food preparation area. And breast-feeding mothers used the same rag to clean their breasts before offering their nipple to the baby. The water was uninfected at its source but became infected along the route from the well to the home to the baby.

Research communication planning

The findings of the small-scale rapid assessment could not be generalized to all other villages nationally. A larger, representative study was designed in order to make credible recommendations to the Ministry of Health and others. The design also included identification of audiences who would use the research as well as the uses they might make of the new information, where the "new information" might have implications for other services supporting the well-drilling programme:

POLICY. Users: Ministers of Health (MOM) and Public Works (MOPW) and UNICEF Country Representative. Uses: Authorize new, public information and disease monitoring services to complement the well-drilling programme; and modify drilling time schedules, area coverage, and target achievements.

FINANCE. Users: Ministers of Health and Finance (MOP) and UNICEF Representative. Uses: Approval of budget presentation justifying amount and priorities of funding for complementary information/monitoring services.

INSTITUTIONAL CAPABILITY. Users: MOH and MOPW decision-makers. Uses: Improve facilities, infrastructure, supplies, and equipment needed to add new complementary services to the drilling programme.

INSTITUTIONAL LINKAGES. Users: MOH and MOPW decision-makers and programme managers of central and regional offices. Uses: Inter-agency workshops and planning meetings to improve collaboration and coordination of village-level complementary services.

PERSONNEL. Users: MOH administrative and programming decision-makers and training directors in central and regional training centres. Uses: Revised job descriptions, training curriculum, field guidelines, performance evaluation criteria.

SERVICE DELIVERY. Users: MOH and MOPW programme managers and MOH clinic staff and village health visitors. Uses: Redesign water and sanitation program to highlight the potable water "contagion route" in all phases of introduction, installation, and self-maintenance of the wells and pumps in the community.

INFORMATION/COMMUNICATION. Users: MOH and Ministries of Information (MOI) and Education (MOE) decision-makers. Uses: Cooperation in design, testing, production, and distribution of new public and special-audience information/motivation materials in support of the provision of clean water.

COMMUNITIES/RECIPIENTS. Users: Community members - leaders, property owners, and families (fathers, mothers, older children), and school teachers. Uses: Household-level education about keeping clean water clean.

MONITORING/EVALUATION. Users: MOH clinic-to-regional offices; ultimately top MOH, MOPW, UNICEF policy-makers. Uses: Evaluate effectiveness of complementary educational services in support of clean water programmes, based on long-term monitoring and evaluation of young children's health status.

PROFESSIONAL DISSEMINATION. Users: Relevant Ministries of Government, UNICEF and other international agencies, NGOs, and private contractors and universities. Uses: multi-media dissemination through professional exchanges, conferences, workshops, meetings, journal articles, reports, speeches, memos, etc.

PUBLICITY. Users: Mass and specialty media, folk media. Uses: New public information through film, broadcast, print, and traditional media in support of the communication services complementing the well-drilling programme.

Of course, a general objective in planning the communication of any research is that the findings become part of the policy and programming environment; part of the "climate" for government and non-government activities. This is the diffusion of state-of-the-art substantive or methodological knowledge that is difficult to know or trace.

Elements of the research communication system

Research communication is increasingly being used to strengthen decision-making by planning the potential use of data and applying the results of such plans to all aspects of the information gathering and analysis system. Applied to research studies, particularly those conducted in support of specific health projects, communication planning is done as part of the advanced planning for the study. This planning concentrates on how most effectively to link data to their intended uses and users.

The planning applies proven organizational, interpersonal, and mass and specialty media models and techniques to each stage of data demand, collection, processing, presentation, dissemination, use, and new data demand. The cycle is continuous.

Communication tools which are included:

1. Audience segmentation,
2. Change-objective targeting,
3. Channel analysis,
4. Opportunities and constraints analysis,
5. Multiple formal and informal channel use,
6. Message credulity factors,
7. Learning theory applications,
8. Dynamic and portable presentation techniques,
9. Presenter training,
10. Mass media linkages, and others (see below).

As such, research communication is a system of tools both for increasing data demand and for improving the acceptance and usefulness of data - to help produce better-informed decisions on health. It tries to improve both the top-down information needs of decision-makers and bottom-up data use. It is not merely improved techniques of communicating research data. Rather, it is a systems approach that is shaped by the intended and potential uses and users of the data to be produced by a given project.

Used optimally, the system becomes an organized communication strategy that is driven by decision-makers' needs and demands for improved health information. It has these features:

DEMAND-DRIVEN. Centred initially around decision-makers who set the agenda of data gathering, the form in which analyses are made available, and the channels through which data flow.

PARTNERSHIP. Planned in advance of the project in a partnership of decision-makers, programme managers, research specialists, and communication professionals - working with the knowledge of community needs and demands.

LINE-ITEM. Budgeted as a formal part of the project.

SYNTHETIC. Based on as much relevant existing information as possible, to synthesize new data in the context of information needs and what is already known.

SEGMENTED. Keyed to specific types of primary and secondary audiences who are potential users and/or beneficiaries of the results (e.g., national leaders, training centre staff, community elders, mothers).

TARGETED. Aimed et achieving specific, behavioural "change objectives" for each audience - capitalizing on opportunities for change and overcoming obstacles to change.

ANTICIPATORY. Cast into a forward-looking dissemination plan that identifies primary and secondary audiences, and plans the most effective messages, schedules, and channels for reaching them.

MULTI-MEDIA. Disseminated through a comprehensive package of presentation devices (video, print, computer, etc.) for conveying technical data in, as much as possible, a non-technical, prescriptive format.

MULTI-SECTORAL. Designed to link health and other sectors in applying relevant parts of a common data base to decision-making where programming requires (or should require) converging resources from collaborating agencies.

CONTINUOUS. Planned to meet new data uses through on-going re-analyses of the same information base for the purpose of exploring initial relationships in greater depth or for addressing specific problems that arise with new questions stimulated by the initial findings.

EXPANSIVE. Planned to anticipate a widening pool of users as the data prove useful for decision-making, resource allocation, and benefits to recipients.2

Just as a health information system is planned with a view toward the uses and users of results, so is a communication system planned at the same time to improve the uses and expand the pool of capable users.

As decision-makers find the data understandable, specific to their needs, and useful for their decisions, their support will grow for continuing problem-specific re-analyses and further syntheses of data; on-going reporting and presentation, and new dissemination opportunities; new or unanticipated data uses; and expanding the population of data users.3

Using the research communication overlays to the optimal dissemination of data

Applying research communication as a management tool to improve health decision-making is neither unduly expensive nor time-consuming. Cost factors include an initial audit of data and decision-making flows, training design and implementation, and a hardware/software package based on existing equipment and needed upgrades. While measurement of causal impact is often difficult, process evaluation with RAP methods can generate assessments of considerable depth.

While all health data management and decision networks have different problems, each network has many of the same ingredients and a common structure. As a basis for assessing the strength of existing data or the need for new data, the research communication overlay is superimposed much like an audit on the research plan and asks a set of questions that connects:

1. The "top-down" data needed for project decision-making at different managerial levels with
2. The "bottom-up" feasibility of meeting managers' decision-making needs with existing or new data.

The relationships between managers' data needs and the feasibility of meeting those needs with new or existing data are represented by the matrix below. Decision-making questions are at the top of the matrix and information feasibility questions are at the bottom:

Management decision-making asks: What information is needed, by whom, for what decision-making purpose, at what level or place, by what time, in what form, from what sources, with what reliability, through what method of presentation, and at what acceptable cost?

Information feasability asks: What information can be provided, by whom, for what reporting purpose, at what level or place, in what period of time, in what form, from what sources, with what reliability, by what means of data gathering, and for what cost of collection and/or conversion?

In the columns of the matrix, this first of two communication overlays relates the needs of decision-makers (at any level, for various programme issues) to the availability of existing data to determine what usable data are accessible and what new data have to be collected.

As represented by the rows in the matrix, the programming issues span:

• Policy development and administrative and budgeting concerns;

• Infrastructural needs and issues of institutional capabilities and connections;

• Programme implementation, staff and training, field management, and production and distribution of services; and

• Monitoring and evaluating recipient effects, and dissemination of information to, and for use by, professional and lay audiences.

Overlay 1. Research Communication Planning



What Data Needed

By Whom

For What Purpose

At what Place

In what Form

From What Source

What Reliability

How Best Present

At What Cost

















What Data Exist

Who Can Supply Data

For What Kind of Report

From What Place

In What Form

From What Source

What Reliability

How Report

At What Cost

In considering systematically all issues of audiences, locations, timing, costs, data types, sources, collection, trustworthiness, uses, and presentation methods, the research communication overlay evaluates the capability of existing or new data to address decision-makers' needs and, in the process, ties the demand for data to the existing or potential supply of data.

For example, the matrix addresses these interrelated questions:

NEEDS. What data are needed? What data are available to meet the need?

USERS. Who needs the data? Who can either supply the existing data or collect new data?

USES. For what decision purpose are the data needed? What is the reporting purpose? And how does the first affect the second?

WHERE. At what level or place is the decision being made? At what level or place are the data available or accessible?

TlME. When are the data needed for decision-making? How long will it take to get the needed data?

FORM. In what form are data needed? In what form are they available or accessible?

SOURCE. From what sources are the data needed? From what sources can they be obtained?

USEFULNESS. How reliable - trustworthy - should the data be? How reliable are the existing or accessible data?

METHODS. How best can the data be presented? How best can they be collected and, if necessary, converted to usable form?

COST. What is the acceptable cost of presentation and dissemination? What is the acceptable cost of data collection and conversion?

By using this first overlay in advance of data collection, project directors can get a good idea of whether the cost of meeting decision-makers' data needs can be justified by the decision purpose. Often, data uses are renegotiated with data users in light of information needs that cannot be met at the expected or affordable level of resource expenditure (e.g., time, money, staff, training, travel, quality control, etc.)

The overlay also anticipates how the data can be most effectively packaged and presented to different audiences. This consideration of the dissemination of information is the most dynamic element in the equation. The timing, formats, and channels of communication vary over time (some anticipated and some not) as a data base takes on new character and significance as a result of new data analyses, improved syntheses, unanticipated data uses, and a widening pool of users.

Answering these questions is a first step toward assessing the feasibility of meeting decision-makers' and other audiences' needs. But it does not stop here. The information in the overlay is used at various times during data collection, analysis, and dissemination (even long after the study is over) along with other planning tools and evaluation questions and methods to continue to refine the data inquiry, sharpen the application of tools, and reach a widening pool of data users.

Training in research communication

We have to bring into partnership those who supply data and those who demand data. Building a relationship among decision-makers, programme officers, researchers, and communication specialists that is, in fact, organized around research data is an innovation for which training in communication principles and techniques is needed at all levels of those who need information and those who produce it.

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