The Challenge of Communicating Research to a Diverse Group of Stakeholders

This past semester, I took a seminar in the honors college that focused on fundamentals of research and how to communicate findings. During this seminar, I learned the value of thought-out research communication and how to overcome some of the barriers that may hinder the effectiveness of this communication. It is a considerable task to ensure communication about research is received by a specific target audience, as oftentimes the research can have substantial positive implications for all its stakeholders. A challenge arises when tasked with effectively communicating findings to a diverse group of stakeholders. The first step is to identify the intended audience, as the method of communication, details included, and other factors may vary for different stakeholder groups. For example, I developed a presentation for my amazing donors, David and Tina Bellet, that focuses on not just a broad overview of the project, but also how it ties into my academic and career goals. This method gives them insight into what my ambitions are, and why I am particularly passionate about my project. On the other hand, I recently had a meeting with a data scientist who is interested in involvement with the development of the tool. When I communicated the project to him, I gave him a very brief background on myself, and instead emphasized the technical methodologies we employed in this tool. I presented the types of open source software we are using, and the different external data sources we have incorporated. This gave him a better understanding of not only the goal of our project from a data analytics and collection standpoint, but also how he could be of assistance to us in development. 

However, while both of these presentations involved completely different information, the one similarity I retained in this communication was the purpose of my project. This is arguably the most valuable piece of information, and is relevant to all stakeholders. I articulate the purpose of my project as the provision of equitable access to reliable data for communities to measure food insecurity. With this description it is also necessary for me to define certain terminology, especially when talking to a general audience. There is a common misconception amongst the general audience that “food insecurity” can only exist in low income communities. While affordability does play a significant role in inciting food insecurity, members of middle and upper class communities can also be victims of food insecurity. As a result, when communicating to a general audience, it is necessary for me to explain the dimensions we use to measure food insecurity, which paints a holistic picture of all the variables that must be taken into account when assessing a region. 

On the topic of communication, my research runs into a unique problem in regards to access. My deliverable for this research project is an interactive data tool, meant for a variety of different stakeholders with different backgrounds, different levels of education, and different technological access. In addition, the Food Abundance Index Phase 2 incorporates a survey tool, which requires widespread community completion. It is essential for me to effectively communicate the importance of this survey component to community members in order to ensure their participation. For this obstacle, I opted for the inclusion of a description of the project goals and specifically how it can be beneficial to the community. Especially during this time of a global pandemic, many community members are facing unique issues, and it is important for their voices to be heard, and their problems addressed. We communicate that this survey is their opportunity to help local government, community organizations, and other influential decision-makers best address issues these community members are facing. By taking the survey, it ensures their voices are not lost amidst significant turmoil and change. In addition, we are also considering adding a monetary incentive to the survey aspect, but that has not been developed at this time. Another stakeholder that we must communicate with is the government and community organizations we seek to assist with this tool. Traditionally, high profile regional data assessments are extremely expensive, and thus not an option for many communities. The goal of this tool is equitable access, which extends to governments and community organizations. However, we must also communicate the credibility of this approach. This data has the potential to be used in important and influential policy, budgetary, or other types of decisions. Thus, it must be extremely accurate and reliable, and this credibility must also be effectively communicated to the organizations we seek to service.

Finally, communication of how to navigate the tool itself is also an essential component of the communication technique to my stakeholders. This is valuable for all users of the platform, and it is necessary for me to take into account that some stakeholders may be unfamiliar with this style database, or databases in general. The user interface (UI) is specifically programmed to be accessible on mobile devices, so access from a smartphone is available, and the survey is accessible to any cellular device. The interface is primarily housed on a webpage, that will have a simple but descriptive domain name that can be searchable across different search engines. Upon entering the webpage, the user will be greeted with a pop up window with a brief overview of the tool. This is where the purpose, or mission statement, of the tool will be articulated. From this window, the user clicks through to a tutorial of how to navigate the interface. The tool itself uses open source software that has a similar appearance to Google Maps, which may be already familiar to more technologically inclined users. Nonetheless the tutorial can accommodate users who may be unfamiliar with similar applications.

For my future career goals, I have a strong desire to work in consulting, particularly aimed at the public sector. My experience in policy-oriented research, case competitions, and consulting projects plays on my interest in addressing complex issues faced by communities. Based on this experience, and my personal passion, it is exciting to anticipate my future career as one in a field with such a substantial impact. Also, communication is extremely important in consulting, as the very nature of the work catalyzes engagement with different stakeholders and exchange of ideas. This research is effectively preparing me for my future career because I have the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with many stakeholders involved, and the tool is essentially a consulting tool to be used in communities across the nation. However, I am not particularly set on a career path after my undergraduate studies, and would consider pursuing a postsecondary degree, a national scholarship, or a full time consulting position. No matter the avenue I select, this research opportunity will be extremely valuable, and I can utilize it to exemplify my passion for equitable access, social impact, and addressing complex, deeply rooted, social issues.

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