Megan McPherson is currently working on the Dissemination of Learning and Teaching Resources Project for the College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. She is supporting multiple research teams and internal and external processes for engaged dissemination.
She has project managed, led, and evaluated higher education research in the areas of peer learning and assessment in the creative industries, elearning approaches in the university studio, and professional development for teaching in new generation learning spaces.
Megan is a practicing artist and has taught and researched in the university studio for 18 years. She is a PhD scholar in the Faculty of Education, Monash University.
It used to be that dissemination was all about the academic publishing and conference presentations you would do at the end of the project to make public your findings and recommendations.
In the grant-lands of internal and external funding bodies, the idea of dissemination is changing.
Engaging in dissemination with your stakeholders is expected from the beginning of the project. An example of the support for this move is the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) ‘engaged dissemination’ project resulting in The D-Cubed project and resources.
Most learning and teaching funds emphasise engaged dissemination, and there are things that we can learn from this space. Dissemination can be more than an academic conference paper or article in a pay-walled journal.
Dissemination has moved into the more specific arena of ‘engaged dissemination’ where there is a planned process of ‘understanding potential adopters and engaging with them throughout the life of the project, to facilitate commitment to sustained change” (p.12). This means that you identify and interact with the audience for your research from the beginning of your project.
It involves a process that is thoughtful and focused on the change you want to enact through your project. An example of this is the Eating for Two study by Dr Emily Kothe. The study examines eating habits and pregnancy, and is making connections with, and disseminating information to, the audience that is most affected by these issues. Emily, an early career researcher (ECR) at Deakin University, is disseminating information, updating her audience, and recruiting participants through Facebook.
Dissemination is closely connected to your project’s methods and methodology. You can think of engaged dissemination as:
- Distributing project products or information
- Telling others about the project
- Others using the project outcomes
- Spreading and embedding project impact
- An ongoing two-way process aimed at bringing about change
(The D-Cubed project, p.10)
These concepts can help you think through the research process and what change you want to achieve. Different artefacts, events, and methods can work in multiple ways and for diverse audiences. These multiple ways are best illustrated by the different dissemination examples below.
Static web resources are the lasting web based artefacts like a website from the project, resources, and reports that are accessible. Many of the contractual agreement with learning and teaching funds require that they have to remain accessible on the web for five years.
An example of a static web resource is the Teaching Larger Classes site. Under the sessional teaching tab, it provides examples of learning and teaching resources on multiple platforms and outputs for sessionals teaching in universities. This externally funded project links into an institutional presence and manual. Other learning and teaching resources and documents can be lodged into repositories and shared from this point. Writing manuals to support the change being enacted provides a way for your audience to undertake action without having to read your reports or academic articles. However, this type of dissemination depends on the audience finding the resources – it is a ‘distributing project products or information’ type of engaged dissemination.
Engaged dissemination is also about telling others about the project and having them use the project outcome. Trish McClusky (@Trilia) and Kylie Readman (@kyliereadman) have designed the Social Media Toolkit, a project for higher education leaders who are interested in developing knowledge and skills in connecting, sharing, and creating through social media. It is a repository of information, and customisable by users to suit different locations and priorities. For example, you can copy the content of the site with author attribution, and then add and adapt links to introduce a particular topic, a particular location, and add your university’s social media policy and guidelines to suit your audience.
Other forms of engaged dissemination spread and embed the project impact by using blogging over the life of the project to engage with stakeholders. Professor Pat Thomson regularly blogs about her research experiences. She lists a number of her ongoing project blogs on her blog’s research page; these project blogs are where she and her research team document their research. In the comments the audience can interact, ask questions and contact the researchers.
Non-traditional outcomes for engaged dissemination include films and participatory art exhibitions. The Heroic Strategies Exhibition came out of a large, long-term project that addresses staff concerns in Bournemouth’s School of Health & Social Care. The project describes its methodology as ‘a unique arts-based approach to change management to engage staff in the process’. The project researchers, Dr Kip Jones and Professor Gail Thomas, used a guest blog post on the LSE Impact blog to engage with an audience interested in change in academic institutions.
Professor Adra Cole’s project, Putting care on the map, investigates care giving and Alzheimer’s disease with an arts-based methodology. It used engaged dissemination, including participatory art exhibitions. The project invited carer-participants to add to the data in situ in the gallery as well as in more formal ways. The idea of the research was to educate the public about the complexities of care giving by connecting with diverse communities. By exhibiting collecting stories, artefacts, and documenting experiences, it disseminated the information at the same time that it gathered it. It exhibited the works over a two year period, and Cole continued to present the project academically over 6 years. It is an example of an ongoing two-way process aimed at bringing about change.
To start thinking about dissemination in the design phase, the OLT recommends these starting questions to think through the process:
- What do you want to disseminate?
- Who is your target audience?
- Why do you want to disseminate?
- How are you going to do it?
- How might you involve your target audience throughout the process?
- Have you allowed time for evaluation, reflection and replanning?
- How will you know that your dissemination has been successful?
(The D-Cubed project, from King, 2003, p. 89 )
Follow up steps
My secondary questions are:
- What are the best ways to make contact and engage your audience?
- What are the outcomes that are going to be most useful in this conversation?
- How do I make this sustainable for the research team and my audience to engage in this process?
- What is the cost (money, time and personnel) of these strategies and outcomes?
- Have we included the dissemination process in our evaluation plan?
Dissemination is about building profile for your project and about you – the researcher – as a part of the team. Recently, I made a webpage for the project, Academics who Tweet. It’s research I am working on with Dr Narelle Lemon (La Trobe University) and Kylie Budge (Victoria University). The webpage has an “About” section that is replicated on Narelle’s blog and linked into Kylie’s profile on LinkedIn. This simple act of making the project known on multiple platforms has enabled us to make connections with other researchers in the area.
There’s sure to be an audience that will engage with your research. It’s up to you to tell them about it, in ways that make sense for your methodology and research design.