Understanding complex and technical research data is usually a laborious task that is difficult for many. More often than not, technical research is communicated in an overly complicated format that is not easily accessible to the wider public. Barriers such as language and format can prevent the public from processing and fully understanding the research they are reading.
It’s a common scenario when reading a report to have to stop multiple times to look up the jargon and be faced with another technical barrier a few words on. It takes up a large amount of the reader’s time, it dampens the reading experience and it distorts the learning. It can also deter the public altogether from reading or engaging with research findings, that are otherwise exciting and worthy of exploring. However, Research Retold is on a mission to change this by reconnecting research with wider audiences that can benefit from its application.
Mihaela Gruia, a data scientist by training, runs a research communications company, Research Retold, that works with academic researchers and evaluators within research organisations to communicate their findings in visual and accessible ways.
“Communication is at the core of what we do,” says Mihaela. “We specialise in research communication which is focused on taking complex and technical reports, summarising them and communicating them in more accessible language and visual documents.
“Communication is also very important to how we position ourselves as a company to people who might be interested in what we do or in what we have to offer.”
Research Retold stems from a science communications background working with academics and researchers to repackage their findings and reports into simpler, more engaging formats that non-experts can digest with ease. They have a multi-disciplinary team of 13 communication strategists and graphic designers.
“We repackage and communicate research, data and technical information to maximise their potential to be understood and used in the real world,” Mihaela continues.
“Research is often locked behind language or accessibility barriers and people don’t have the time or the knowledge to fully engage with or process it, in order to inform their day-to-day activity and decisions.
“By visually communicating key findings in language that is easy to understand, we increase the chances of that information to be used, understood and seen more widely. The ripple effects of this increased awareness can become quite significant down the line.
“Typically, the development of research has a snowball effect,” Mihaela further explains. “One piece of research can have a small impact on its own, but can contribute to a larger development or a different research project altogether.
“A piece of research can be published today but maybe two months later other researchers build upon that work. The effective communication of that research can lead to more positive change and further developments. Yet, it can be very hard to follow this change as a busy policymaker, business person or practitioner. These people are busy and have a million things competing for their attention. So, it makes more sense to present research findings in accessible formats that can inform their work.”
But how is that achieved exactly? How is the research repackaged into a more user-friendly end-product?
Mihaela explains that each project combines a mixture of strategic thinking, simpler language and creative graphics to capture the audience’s attention and to communicate the research. When presented in this way the research becomes appealing to read because it is easy on the eye and identifiable with the reader.
“We start with an in-depth consultation with the client to scope out who exactly we are communicating the information to,” Mihaela explains. “We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the audience and reverse engineer from the person who is going to pick up the document. In this initial stage, we explore what key messages we want to relate and what feelings we want to invoke through the end document.
“Then we drill down into the key messages and the channels of communication we will use to disseminate the document, the values behind the research, the tone of voice and the bigger picture behind the piece of work. It’s always helpful to understand the wider context in which the research team operates.
“After this initial consultation, we would go into the editorial stage where we read the long version of text, edit that down and pull out the key messages,” says Mihaela. “From this, we start the design stage. Here the summarised text is brought to life through engaging visuals that enhance the understanding of the text.
“In the end, we have a concentrated version of the long technical report that we started with.
“We like to develop our projects in a collaborative way. We develop several iterations that receive feed back from our clients, keeping them always in the loop about what stage we are at and what is going on.”
The field in which Research Retold operates in is new. Mihaela comments that 10 years ago a business focusing on communicating knowledge in accessible ways would not have existed.
But now, in the UK at least, there is a real appetite for research to be repackaged and communicated accessibly. The Research Councils and many funding bodies encourage academics to think about the real-world impact of their research, even before they secure funds to develop the projects.
“This conversation started with the introduction of the Research Excellence Framework in 2014, which aims to evaluate the impact of research coming out of UK universities.
“Research has always been at the foundation of our society, and important discoveries have always found a way to spread to the general public and into policy-making.
“Now it’s less about communicating the invention of the light bulb but more about shining a spotlight on targeted research findings for those who can act on that evidence and make better, more informed decisions.”
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