How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Is Research the Goal, or the Launching Pad?

List member and my old Nature Conservancy colleague Jon Fisher (now moving to Pew Charitable Trusts — congrats, Jon!) responded to my email this week about an absurdly paywalled paper by sharing his tips on a) helping people discover that your peer-reviewed journal article exists, and b) then helping people access the article.

Jon’s guide is thorough, candid, and generous — like Jon himself. Many thanks to him for allowing me to share it.

Jon also invited me (again, totally in character) to comment here on the guide.

I don’t have anything to add to the procedures he outlines. If you want to make your journal articles more accessible to people who want to look directly at that research, follow them.

What I’d add is: That’s a tiny group of people.

So don’t stop there.

Don’t assume that, because you’ve made your article accessible, your communications task is complete.

You’re just getting started.

In fact, ideally, you would have started well before the paper’s publication.

Jon recommends that “for anything you really hope will have an impact, sit down and make a communications plan.” Yes.

But do that well before the paper comes out. Not after.

Start the communications planning process as soon as you get a favorable decision from your reviewers.

Inform your communications staff immediately. Work with them to develop an audience map and messaging for your findings — messaging that doesn’t just focus on the findings, but on the problem and solution your findings address.

And don’t just develop a media plan for the paper with a press release and some outreach. Develop a thought leadership plan to sell the ideas and solutions implicit in the paper.

That kind of plan widens your potential audience — from the small number who would ever read a paper directly to the much larger number who have a problem or concern that your research addresses.

After 20 years as a research communicator — after helping organization after organization promote paper after paper after paper, and watching others do the same — I now know that policy, practice or public impact rarely come from just publishing a paper.

You need to couple that paper with the insights, paradigms and solutions that come from research. You need to be the researcher (with the help of your organizations) willing to translate your research-based expertise into those precious assets.

None of this is to say: Don’t make your journal articles accessible. You should and must. Why wouldn’t you?

But the answer to Jon’s first challenge — helping people discover that your article exists — is the key to your research having impact.