Translating Research Into Action–
Some First Steps

I am reminded of that age old saying – If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a report goes unread by those who most need to read it, does it make an impact? And what if it doesn’t get read by anyone, like one third of the World Bank’s reports that have never been downloaded.

The challenge of translating research into action is one that is much bigger than simply sharing the research effectively, but that is an important place to start. I surely don’t have all the answers, but I do have some insight from years of trying to translate 90 page reports into something useful.

So, you have a research product, what’s next?As a research analyst at The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, I spent a lot of time thinking both about how to develop better financial products for underserved customers and how to influence those who were developing them. After months and months of research, writing, and review, publishing a report felt like it should be the end of the road. Yet, time and time again we were reminded that what happens after you press publish is just as important, if not more important than all of the work that goes into producing it.

Define Key Messages

Instead of boiling the report down to a summary paragraph, think strategically about the strong messages you want people to take away from the report, and write them down. Develop 5-10 sentence-long messages from the research, which capture both broad themes and nitty gritty numbers. You should develop a separate list of key messages for each group of stakeholders you are trying to influence and think strategically about what information will most inspire the action that you want them to take. The parts of the research that are relevant for a policymaker may be completely different than those that will matter to a bank. These key messages will be a powerful tool as you share your research and as you begin to package it into different formats.

Package the Research                                                 

Now that you have your key messages developed, use of variety of channels and mediums to present these. You can use easy graphic design websites like Canva to create a one-pager that captures the key messages, or an infographic which visually represents the research. Yes, I know you are thinking, “I couldn’t possibly develop an infographic”, but I promise, Canva makes it very easy.

Beyond just showing the research, videos and podcasts can be an excellent way to engage your target stakeholders. An app called Anchor makes producing a short podcast very easy, with recording and sound-editing tools and access to a variety of platforms to share the podcast. A short video interview where you discuss the key messages allows the audience to more easily engage with the research.

Gather your Audience

Gathering your target stakeholders can be a wonderful way to share the research and bring it to life, and sites like GoToWebinar are making hosting virtual “gatherings” easier and easier. Here are some best practices and tips for hosting webinars and roundtables:

Best Practices for Roundtables

  • Multi-stakeholder group
  • No more than 25 people
  • Plenty of breaks!
  • 10-15 minute presentation on the research (again guided by the Key Messages)
  • Ask participants to moderate discussion on more provocative questions brought up by the research

Best Practices for Webinars

  • Video feed of speaker is always best!
  • Include polls or questions for the audience throughout
  • Keep presentation of research to under 30 minutes
  • A group panel of multiple video feeds is most engaging
  • Leave plenty of time for questions (and always have some back-up questions lined up in case participants don’t ask any)

This list surely does not cover all of the ways that you can share your research, but I hope it helps you get started. These steps could be the difference between your research living on the pages of a report and it guiding the decisions of your target stakeholders.