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How to effectively communicate research impact

As a medical charity, you have a responsibility to measure and communicate the impact of your research – this also enables you to improve services, refine strategies and increase funding.

But as products and services often take many years before they are market ready, you will need innovative methods to successfully measure and communicate your progress.

Choose your measuring tool

Thankfully, there are various tools and courses available to help your charity evaluate the difference you are making to those you aim to help. One powerful tool is researchfish®, an online system that allows charities to collect data on the outcomes and impact of their research. To date, more than 100,000 awards, totalling over £45 billion of funding have been tracked in researchfish®.  

The system analyses research according to five main aims and assesses impact across grant types and research activities. More information on researchfish® can be found in the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)’s ‘Making a difference: Impact report 2017’, which provides an analysis of the impact outcomes obtained by 40 funders who used the tool in April 2016. Importantly, the report shows that although not every funding award will lead to an impact, researchfish® can provide compelling narratives that demonstrate research impact.  

If your charity is represented by AMRC, you can currently obtain Medical Research Council funding to use researchfish® free of charge.

Share the impact of your research

Once impact has been measured it needs to be communicated well. Annual reports may seem the logical place to discuss research impact, but these messages can be buried, so it is often beneficial to adopt a multi-pronged communication and dissemination approach.

Your strategy will be led by how best to reach and interact with your target audience. Some options may include:

  • Sending bite-sized messages on Twitter and Facebook
  • Posting an impact report on your website, blog or Instagram
  • Sharing infographics on Pinterest
  • Highlighting achievements in a personalised email or letter
  • Presenting your findings at a conference

What about a digital impact report?

Digital or animated impact reports are becoming a popular way to communicate outcomes and they can be effective if embedded well on your website and shared through social media and relevant networks. There are many benefits of producing a digital report, including the ability to:

  • Instantly share on social media and email
  • Engage different user groups
  • Interact with users and receive immediate feedback
  • Search within the website and via search engines
  • Quickly navigate to appropriate sections
  • Track user engagement

Getting the design right

Serious thought needs to be given to the design of an impact report. Designed appropriately, it will be visually appealing, but not distracting. The ‘Making a difference: Impact report 2017’, for example, retains lots of white space and makes use of bullet points, colour and bold for emphasis.

The report is divided into manageable chunks, with sections repeated for clarity. Key statistics are highlighted using typographical features such as colour and font size. Links to the next page or other chapters are made available at the bottom of the screen for easy navigation between chapters.

Clever and appropriate use of digital charts and infographics are also included, making even the most complex data or concept accessible.

Well produced infographics capture your key messages in one place and can be shared as standalone pieces. Examples of powerful infographics include WaterAid’s ‘Everyone, everywhere’ and Cancer Research UK’s Tobacco vs Meat – What’s the Risk?

A way with words

For your report to be successful, it is essential to pay attention to tone of voice and use of language. An impact report should be succinct, engaging, jargon free and honest. It also needs to be pitched at the right level – many people reading the report won’t have a science or medical background, so it’s wise to aim the content at the lay person.

Telling your story   

You will likely have used storytelling to communicate awareness or fundraising messages and this could also be a powerful way of discussing research impact. Inspiration can be taken from compelling campaigns such as Alzheimer’s Research UK’s ‘Share the Orange’, which was promoted by many news sites, blogs, forums and had over 500,000 shares. Other successful campaigns include Macmillan’s online community animation, Cancer Research UK’s Let’s beat cancer sooner campaign and WaterAid’s Big Dig Appeal.

Your turn – what worked for your charity?

How do you communicate research impact? If anything has worked particularly well for your charity, we would love to hear your ideas and successes