Cochrane Groups around the world spend a lot of time and effort trying to disseminate review results in many of different ways. Indeed, for 20 years now Cochrane researchers in Norway and in many other countries have carried out research and development into how to disseminate the results of Cochrane reviews. This focus is one of many reasons AcademyHealth has joined the recently launched Cochrane US Network.
While there are some great examples of dissemination across our groups, quality can vary. In addition, many people within Cochrane want to do more dissemination, but needed more guidance. That’s why we developed a dissemination checklist to help people within Cochrane disseminate the results of their intervention reviews.
The checklist can enhance dissemination efforts for a variety of research types
Even though this checklist was made specifically for Cochrane researchers working with reviews of effectiveness, we believe it contains applicable insights for those working to move health services research into action. The checklist includes 18 items to check off as you work on dissemination efforts – from involving your target audience and using plain language to presenting your findings in more than one way.
Most Cochrane reviews synthesize studies that assess the effectiveness of health services, and the checklist is designed specifically for these types of reviews. But a lot of the items in the checklist are just as relevant for people disseminating other types of research, such as reviews that synthesize qualitative research; or for people disseminating primary research. For instance, the checklist encourages people to use plain language and avoid research jargon; to structure the content in a way that makes scanning and reading easier; to think about the impact of the results on people affected by the topic; and to avoid making recommendations – guidance that is useful to apply to dissemination products for any research area.
Taking the time to identify and understand your target audience is always worth it
Getting input from your target audience is one of the most important things you can do to improve your products. Dissemination aims to change something about the way your audience thinks or does something, so without knowing your audience, you are simply making a guess about the best way to communicate with them. We realize that people making dissemination products often have limited time and resources. In the checklist, we’ve suggested a few different approaches to learning about your target audience, depending on the amount of time people have.
One important lesson we learned in the development of the checklist was to stop thinking about patients and the public, health professionals and policy makers as distinct groups. These target audiences can be quite different from each other in many ways, but when it comes to understanding research results, they share a lot of the same challenges. Because of this realization, we have now started to distinguish first and foremost between people who are familiar with systematic reviews and people who are not.
Tailor your use of the checklist to your dissemination skill level
People creating dissemination products have a wide range of different skills when it comes to communication and knowledge translation. Some of the items in the checklist are likely to be obvious to a lot of people while others will be more unfamiliar. We suggest that people go through the guidance document of the checklist to see where they might have gaps and need to learn more, as well as to get more detail and some examples of applying the checklist in practice. The first page of the dissemination checklist guidance document is just the list of checklist items and primarily serves as a “cheat sheet” that people can use once they feel reasonably familiar with the contents of the checklist.
A key lesson we learned in developing the checklist is the need to move beyond just making sure the information is understandable to people. This is a really important goal, but we also learned to think about a range of other factors. For instance, is the information credible for our target audience? Do they feel that the information is relevant for them? Is the information attractive to them, do they actually want to look at it? Having a designer on our team has helped us think about the whole user experience, and not just issues tied to understanding the content.
A common challenge when developing dissemination products is to give a reasonably complete, nuanced, and unbiased representation of the evidence while presenting it in a way that people with or without research experience find useful, can understand, and want to read. With this Checklist, our primary objective has been to develop a set of principles that achieve a balance between these two goals. We hope you will find it useful in the dissemination work that you do.