Disseminating Research as a Network: Credit on the Cusp Case Study
Disseminating findings is a critical part of the research process. It leads to increased awareness; it also helps to enhance understanding of the messages the research intends to convey, hence maximising the impact that the research can have. Yet, many organisations struggle to formulate a successful dissemination strategy for research that they often invest heavily in.
How best can a Network help to disseminate research findings and thereby contribute meaningfully to an overall research strategy?
Network structures form an exceptional opportunity for spreading information widely. The Credit on the Cusp case study forms a good example to highlight this point. In this case, FSD Africa commissioned Bankable Frontier Associates to undertake the Credit on the Cusp (CoC) research project and Well Told Story for the dissemination strategy. The research, while broad in scope, sought to answer one driving question: Given major shifts taking place in African economies, how can donors and policymakers guide credit market development in a way that strengthens the economic well-being of the ‘cusp group’ (broadly defined as those getting by on $2-$5 per day) over the next 10 years? The study examined experiences from cusp group consumers and the lenders serving them in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya.
Using this case study as an example, five golden rules emerged as important for the success of the research’s dissemination as a Network:
- Develop a dissemination plan
A dissemination strategy was developed as the research got underway. Measurable goals were formulated and target audiences identified. We used the ‘Pyramid of engagement’, a multimedia approach, to disseminate findings. This entailed developing a planning tool with activities and products to be disseminated. The following were used consecutively before and after the launch of the research findings;
- Executive Summary
- Social media (tweets and retweets)
- Press release
- Report launch
- Workshop events
- News coverage (newspaper and radio features)
- Follow up (ongoing)
- Possible future events to include online discussion, follow-up publication, further in-country meetings
- Include FSDs as key stakeholders in research process
A key learning for FSD Africa was the need to involve all the FSDs, especially staff involved in communications, as a step towards network-wide ownership of the research and its translation into practice. During the research dissemination, it was it was learned that research departments across the FSDs and other key stakeholders should be involved, not only when the results are known, but throughout the research process. Holding key stakeholder meetings where research findings are presented will encourage stakeholders to participate in interpreting the findings and developing specific recommendations for their action plans. Involving Monitoring and Results Measurement (MRM) units within the Network in the research process is also critical to evaluate the effectiveness of the dissemination plan and inform lessons for future strategies.
- Push marketing within and beyond the Network
Once the executive summary of the report was ready, this was shared with all FSDs. To kick off social media engagement across the network, nine country infographics showing a percentage of cuspers and their total population were shared with Communication Leads. Using the hashtag #CreditontheCusp, individual FSDs tweeted and retweeted ahead of the research launch.
A blog series was also posted on influential partner blogs such as the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Next Billion, i2i, and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI). All posted the blogs on their website and shared information about the research before the CoC report launch.
The executive summary was translated into a printed and an electronic brochure and the country infographics into business cards. The business cards contained the research findings, contact information of each FSDs as well as a link to the CoC landing page. Participants received these Information, Education, Communication (IEC) materials at the market place during the report launch. Ideally, these IEC materials should be brief, concise and visually appealing.
Additionally, the blogs and a podcast were shared in the FSD Network newsletter and newsletters of Network Members. While such newsletters can involve a fair amount of work, the benefits are well worth the effort. Drawing together a mailing list of key people to receive an email series can further enhance its reach and effectiveness.
- Build media relations for wide coverage
Before the launch of the report, a press release was developed and distributed within the Network. Thereafter, FSDs were requested customise the release to their country findings and proceed to share the release with in-country media interested in financial sector development. The timing of the press release must be carefully orchestrated before the report launch. Simultaneous release to media is important so that the information is timely and newsworthy. This will increase the likelihood that a story will be written and featured. Even so, coverage from the media demands good media relations between FSDs and journalists at the national, regional and global level.
- Evaluate effectiveness of the dissemination plan
An after action review of the CoC launch and post launch activities were conducted to discuss what went well, what did not go so well and what can be learned for future research dissemination. Analytics brought to light missed opportunities and lessons such as the need to strengthen working relations between MRM and Communication units. We now know that evaluation of research dissemination is most effective when it is built in from the start of the strategy until after the launch. This encourages the selection of measurable criteria for each dissemination activity. Evaluation also provides a better understanding of the barriers to dissemination and leads to greater utilisation of the most effective dissemination strategies in future research projects.