It is a common frustration in the health services research field; you have painstakingly produced research but it doesn’t reach policymakers and key stakeholders. To create a ripple effect and deliver impact with your research, it’s essential to identify your target audience, figure out what is important to them, then create effective messaging and identify channels to reach them. AcademyHealth created the “Communicating for Impact” course to empower researchers and provide them tools to overcome these challenges. Registration for the March offering of the course is now open and capped at 40 registrants.

In the course’s pilot program, experts divulged insider secrets on the best ways to get your message in front of the right people. Below is a teaser of key takeaways March attendees can expect to hear from end users of research including from a funding agency, healthcare system to a media outlet, and a congressional office. As the session was off the record, we have anonymized their feedback below.

Effectively Communicating with Funders: Program Officers Want Researchers to Network with Them

Our guest speaker from a funding agency shared a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how and what they fund. Overall, the agency prioritizes evidence-based decisions and identifies gaps their funding can fill. Learning what’s important to the funder (target audience) and then aligning your research proposal with their priorities (effective messaging), can lead to a higher success rate of navigating the funding lifecycle. Ducas suggested conveying your information like you are telling a friend who may not have the background and technical knowledge you do.

The project officer also added, funders want you to talk to them and encourage researchers to get in touch. Ultimately, funding organizations are accountable for making sure they are supporting evidence-based research; therefore they want to network with researchers. If your message is simple and clear, you have better chance in helping to influence decision making.

Helpful hint from a funder: To find the best person to network with at a funding organization, review their website, read the staff bios, then reach out to the person who is the closest fit for your work.

Tips from a Health Care System Leader: It’s all about the bottom line

Our guest speaker representing the health care system leader perspective provided insight on how to navigate communicating with internal executives within a large healthcare system. This leader recommended when speaking to organizational leaders (target audience), it’s most effective to have the bottom line upfront, be concise with your proposal, and clearly state how it fits into the organizational priorities (effective messaging).

To identify the top priorities of her leadership team (target audience), this leader shared that they utilize multiple tactics: tracking organizational priorities - via webinars, written materials, and speaking opportunities. Health care leaders also stay on top of the latest trends in health services research, by tapping into the wealth of knowledge of respected colleagues, reputable news sources, and updates from Congress.

Helpful hint from a healthcare system leader: Lead with the bottom line, deliver short messaging points that clearly state how your proposal fits into the organizational priorities.

Working with the Media: Building Relationships is Key

There is no doubt that working with media is incredibly important to amplify your message, but it can also be intimidating.  

Our media guest speaker emphasized it is important to build relationships by identifying reporters who cover your research topic and contact them. It’s important for journalists to fully understand the context of complex issues in the publication.

By establishing relationships with media contacts, this puts researchers in a prime position to assist journalists in their career. If a journalist misinterprets your work or gets it wrong, the reporter advised being clear and direct and to reiterate what your research does and does not say. While researchers may feel like they are at the mercy of the reporter, the opposite is true; researchers are in a powerful position to educate and assist. Afterall, reporters rely on their expertise of researchers to build strong and clear coverage of health topics.

Helpful hint from a health media professional: Key media contacts are important to have as a part of your professional network, so look up reporters covering your area of expertise and reach out to them.

Bonus hint: Media interviews can be nerve wracking, even for the most senior researchers, so if you are uncomfortable during an interview, ask for a timeout, go off the record, and make sure the reporter understands what you are saying.

Policymakers Need Experts for Resources and Guidance

A top priority for many researchers is using their work to impact policy change. The best way to do this is to build key relationships with staffers in policymakers’ offices at the local, state, and national level. Our guest speaker who is a policy advisor on the Hill shared practical insights to communicate with your congressperson.

Another main part of working with policymakers is delivering messaging points which focus on pathways to a solution. As a rule-of-thumb, anyone working in the policy field (target audience) is usually very busy and they respond best to one-pagers with bullet points, relevant images, and highlighting the most important information on your research (effective messaging).

By establishing relationships and creating messaging that appeals to congressional staffers, this puts researchers in a prime position to be contacted by policy makers during crunch time. When gathering resources for a hearing or a bill, staffers often first reach out to congressional research staff, blogs, or journals that aggregate information, then they reach out directly to experts (i.e. research experts like you). These relationships can lead to your research being used to make policy, it could provide testifying opportunities, and more than anything, it could lead you to making a positive impact with your research.

Helpful hint from the Hill: When targeting your messaging, focus on solutions or pathway to a solution to the problem being highlighted.

Research into Practice: Get the tools needed to make an impact

 As Aaron Caroll noted in a New York Times article on the subject: “Dropping knowledge from on high — which is still the modus operandi for most scientists — doesn’t work.”

Those who have mastered the skill of communicating for impact move beyond that typical modus operandi described by Carroll by developing a deep understanding of three key things:

  1. They know who their target audience is and what that audience cares about.
  2. They can craft effective messages that resonate with their target audience(s).
  3. And, they have identified the channels where their target audience is and ways to reach them (e.g.,. social media, blogging, traditional media).

To help researchers overcome this challenge, AcademyHealth developed a custom-tailored solution: the Communicating for Impact course. Designed for busy professionals, the course breaks down each step of the process to create a comprehensive communications plan, which can get your research into the hands of policymakers, key stakeholders, or whomever your target community may be.

The course provides useful templates and resources, to build your communications toolkit, including:

  • An Audience Influencer Map to pinpoint exactly who your audience is (so you can determine how to best meet them where they are and reach them).
  • A fun, interactive Messaging “Mad Lib” which gamifies the process of translating your technical data and research methods into compelling stories and effective messaging points.
  • Downloadable Tools and Handouts to help you develop the appropriate collateral, which resonates with your target audience.

Bring your research to life and learn how to tell the rich stories underneath your data that will spark action and make an impact. Enroll in the Communicating for Impact course by February 24.


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Alexandra Ade

Member Engagement Manager - AcademyHealth

Alex Ade is the Membership Engagement Manager at AcademyHealth. Read Bio

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