How researchers get heard
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5 Questions Public Experts Ask of Their New Research

There’s a huge but almost completely unrecognized difference between a) “communicating research” and b) communicating insights and recommending actions based on your new research with the goals of improving the world, positioning your organization and enhancing your authority. In other words, strategic communications.

Achieving the package in b) sounds a lot better to most researchers I work with, once I’ve articulated the option to them. But conventional research communications almost never advances the strategic communications option — which is one reason it falls so short as a strategic activity for your organization or your career, not to mention as communication itself.

For instance, if you lead a research-driven organization and you have a new piece of research, you should first make sure you and your organization are clear about the answers to these five questions :

  1. What are the top-line findings of the research?
  2. What is the top-line actionable information you want to convey out of the research (which is not the same thing as the findings)?
  3. Which actions you’re now recommending and for whom (e.g., pass a law, regulate or unregulate a corporation, mount a protest, donate to a cause)?
  4. Which actions you want your target audiences to take with you (e.g., collaborate on further research, fund, buy, mount a campaign) because of the research?
  5. Who is the avatar — the public expert — to deliver and advocate for all this? (It’s probably you, but make sure.)

As I hope you can see, I think #1-#4 are almost never the same. I also think #2, #3 and #4 are vastly more important than #1 for the research-driven organization. You want to be clear about #1. You want to kill it on the others.

If you’re an academic, you can usually get away with #1 and taking a feeble swing at #3, because your audience is mostly other academics and you’re still mainly rewarded for filling research gaps. But it’s inexplicable for research-driven organizations and public experts. It’s like coming to a gunfight with a knife.

You have may have lots of findings, or one big one. But if you are a public expert and/or lead a research-driven organization, you need to work your messaging backwards from the information your target communities need to act on from the findings (and the actions you recommend they take) — not from the findings themselves. The findings support the frames, the insights, the solutions — not the other way around.

Being strategic — being a public expert — means focusing less on findings and more on actions, goals and strategy.