Communicating and disseminating research to drive impact is one of the top professional challenges for health services and health policy researchers, as reported in a 2021 survey AcademyHealth conducted. It’s not surprising that this challenge has risen in importance among the research community as political and market forces have increased their demand for action-oriented evidence that decision makers can quickly put into practice. Policymakers are no longer satisfied with research that simply documents a problem. For example, as detailed in a 2014 report, there has been an increasing emphasis on solutions-focused health equity research and a decrease in the proportion of studies that aim solely to detect health.

It’s clear that traditional research practices based on maxims such as “publish or perish” are not sufficient to overcome today’s challenges. Indeed, while nearly 2 million peer-reviewed articles are published each year, even academics report only reading about 200 of them. You can imagine for busy decision makers across all industries and realms of influence, this number would be even lower. Even if people do read peer-reviewed work, a study found that traditional research takes 17 years to impact health care (Morris et al, 2011). Not only are the traditional mediums for disseminating research not sufficiently accessible or timely, but the way in which research is framed and messaged often falls short. 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.”

Unfortunately, most researchers are not trained to communicate their findings beyond these typical mediums and in these traditionally objective manners. The good news is that our research community acknowledges this gap in knowledge, as demonstrated by the 2021 survey results, and are turning to their professional associations to help bridge that skill gap.

To design a program to upskill investigators, we put together a multi-disciplinary team to develop and launch a suite of professional development offerings aimed at addressing the practical skills needed by our community. Based on the insights from a steering committee, survey and focus groups, and drawing from our staff’s expertise on strategic communication, we designed Communicating for Impact, an online 3-week course aimed at developing a deep understanding of three key things: 

  • Who the audience is and what they need; 
  • How to craft messaging that resonates with that audience; and 
  • Which channels are best to reach their audiences with that messaging. 

We held our first pilot offering of the communications course in July 2022. Since then, we’ve sold out 5 additional offerings, representing more than 200 researchers from a variety of institutions from government agencies, leading academic institutions, and health care systems.

A sampling of feedback from graduates includes:  

  • “This course was instrumental to shifting the way I think about sharing my science to the non-science community. We are not taught how to effectively share our science to non-academic audiences, and this provides an excellent introduction to shifting the way we can spread our message to wider audiences and create change based upon our own work.” 
  • “This course was incredibly helpful and provided me a toolkit for communication that was manageable and effective. I have never had training in this area before and I think it will make a meaningful difference in my ability to disseminate research findings and work with decision-makers.” 
  • “This course offered practical, thoughtful strategies to enhance communication with partners, stakeholders, media, and funders. In particular it challenged me to step back from my typical research presentation to consider how to best frame the message for different audiences, and how to use alternate strategies to present the message.” 

The Communicating for Impact course results in researchers who can identify and define their target audience, translate complex findings into actionable insights for busy decisionmakers, and are adept at leveraging non-traditional communication channels such as social media, policy briefings, and media interviews to ensure their work reaches the people who can use it most. 

Registration for this year’s offering is currently open, but space is limited. Learn more and secure your spot here.

Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams, M.A.

Senior Director of Communications and Marketing - AcademyHealth

Lauren Adams, M.A., is senior director of communications and marketing at AcademyHealth, where she oversees th... Read Bio

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