Thanks to this blog the amazing Tseen Kho asked me to share what I know about translating and communicating your research with a group of Early Career Researchers, in Australia anywhere from 1 – 5 years post PhD.
It was a one-hour session during a three day intensive to develop researchers at La Trobe, a great initiative.
It was the graveyard shift, 3 – 4 pm they had already had a tough day. I got some feedback afterward, and the best insights came from my cousin Jack. He teaches kids outdoor skills. He said he tries to constantly remember ‘why are they here’. I could have done that better.
It’s my first time doing this, I was trying a bit too hard to convince people I knew what I was talking about. ‘Story is your friend’ I would have advised myself If I had the benefit of a time machine. Here are some other things I would have told myself: ‘tell them how it’s going to be’, ‘connect using a story they can relate to’, ‘tell them about a time you did something wrong, and what you learned’. ‘focus on one thing and get them to think it through’.
I enjoyed it, I think the slides are good. I want to do it again, better.
So many things: It’s the sum of a whole years work, it’s one in a series, its the product of a team, it’s a physical manifestation of sometimes pretty intangible collective activity.
Its a ton of effort for the people who have done the work to remember, recap and remind the team what they did, how many people were there and where they put the photos they swore they took.
Figuring out the story you want to tell beforehand is a good dream, but that’s hard for a lot of research teams new to creating an annual report.
Photos are important as well, alcohol and disability are two very hard subjects to summarise easily in photos. For alcohol, we ended up looking for the things around alcohol, bars, glasses, empty, nondescript bottles, rather than risk glamorising alcohol, which I fully realise now is a poison and should be treated as such.
Disability is hard too, treating it like any other modelling shoot was the best thing the photographer that was commissioned to do the shoot could have done, and did do, long before my time, the images are starting to look a bit stale now though.
It will take longer than you think, involve more people than you think and need a lot more editing that you think. Even if you just use the same format as last year. The message from the director has to agree with the project descriptions, the summary of income has to agree with the detailed list of income and endless other details.
Two of these used infographics, both well I think and this is an area that can benefit from infographics.
The most common feedback I get is ‘looks really good’. They have many audiences, and many functions, being nice to look at, reassuring and interesting, coherent and consistent is the baseline, anything above that is showing off, not a very Australian thing to do. The hard work is doing what goes into them, they should be a celebration.
Putting it all together in one place is an act of pride, and those that have anything to do with them should be proud.
I found a comms strategy I worked on back in Scotland recently and it made me realize how much I love them. I love the security of planning your work then working your plan, and knowing how the sometimes abstract work of comms fits into the overall goals of the group.
They all work out differently, and the process of doing them is as unique as the people involved. But the ones that work all have a few things in common.
Here’s one, with identifying features removed, the basic theory is that (working up from the bottom) if you communicate the outputs via the channels to the audiences you will achieve the outcomes.
As the title suggests comms strategies are just one part of an overall strategy, your org needs to know where it’s going, what it wants and how it’s going to get it and from whom. A big ask for some groups.
Every strategy I’ve worked on and every board, external advisor and CEO has had different language and approaches for the strategy specifics. I’ve worked within timelines, horizons and waymarkers. And achieved goals, objectives and outcomes with actions, tactics and even once implementables.
Working through those specifics gives me such a good insight into the teams and leaders of orgs that I would suggest the meetings might make good televised content for adding to glassdoor.com. From deep disconnects to just not having the ability to make a decision doing a strategy doc really tells you a lot about the people in charge.
But the things that the ones that have worked have all had in common are buy-in, follow-through and looking back.
I’ve been frustrated trying to get leaders to look at a strategy they asked me to create and moreso trying to get them to look at it a quarter later so I can show them how we’re going. The best experience was a CEO calling me late one night because they wanted clarification on a plan I submitted weeks before.
That one worked well and we did good work. I like to keep them on my wall just behind my monitor so they are always visible.
Take ten years of impactful academic health research and distil it down to three minutes of talking and moving images. What’s really important? What has the biggest impact?
Now do that for six projects, which one is the best? That was the task assigned to a panel of judges in the inaugural Excellence in Health Research and Translation awards at La Trobe University, in March 2018. I helped script supervise the videos. Keeping them equal, showcasing the impact and highlighting the special things that made each project worthwhile.
I had to interview al the researchers, scour the nomination submissions and find the beating human heart of each project. It sometimes took some probing, but all the researchers knew someone who stood out, had a special connection, had a good story and would respond well under the hot gaze of the camera.
Along the way I became a real believer in the researchers work, all of them. The dedication it takes to choose the implementation path, to not stop at publication makes all the researchers who do that amazing.
It was such a challenge to select the points that made it into the videos, the editors I worked with were tough, and we made some real choices. Visuals were by Tim at Mustard Media who must take as much credit, if not more for how the videos came out. Simon at the LTU Media team and Alana, who produced the videos also deserve plaudits for the final product.