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How Can UNRISD Communicate Its Research More Effectively? -- Survey Results

28 Mar 2011



Since 2005, UNRISD has worked to improve its publications and dissemination activities so that it can better communicate its research to diverse audiences. Our objective is that UNRISD research is used by stakeholders within the UN system, academia and civil society, and that it informs debate, policy and practice on social development and poverty reduction. Now the Institute is stepping back and taking stock—what we do well, where to improve, how to respond appropriately to the rapidly evolving communications landscape (in terms of users’ expectations and needs, but also what is possible). This stock-taking is part of a strategic reorganization that will help us reorient our efforts to ensure that limited resources are allocated for maximum impact and effectiveness for our audiences.

In February, we distributed a survey to feed into the development of a new communication strategy. Titled “How can UNRISD communicate its research more effectively?”, the survey was sent to the Institute’s 40,000 email alert subscribers.

The survey questions probed respondents’ familiarity with the Institute, the usefulness of UNRISD publications, and preferred methods of communication. Individual recommendations were also invited.

What respondents told us

Almost half of the 2,662 respondents came from academic institutions, a fifth worked for NGOs, a tenth for government ministries and a tenth for other research institutes. The remainder was split between bilateral donors, international development consultancies, media, multilateral agencies, private sector companies, regulators and think tanks.

Regarding the type of research UNRISD conducts, most respondents (80%) said that UNRISD provides cross-country comparisons; introduces new thinking and approaches (69%); challenges conventional thinking (67%); presents a rounded, balanced view of policy options (65%); and brings a strong Southern perspective (61%).

Of all UNRISD publications, research papers were found to be the most useful (86%), followed by the e-bulletin (78%), policy briefs (74%), flagship reports (73%), articles in scholarly journals (71%), conference news (62%) and books (60%).

At 74%, short research summaries led the list of what respondents would like to receive on a regular basis. This was followed by thematic information (68%), full research reports (65%), general social development news (62%) and news articles on the Institute’s activities and events (53%). Email alerts (72%), the e-bulletin (67%) and the UNRISD website (54%) were the preferred methods of communication. A smaller percentage of respondents (43%) still appreciate printed publications.

The majority of respondents sought social development research most regularly from UNRISD (65%), the United Nations Development Programme (64%) and the World Bank (60%). Overall, more than 30 sources were cited.

Highlights from the nearly 850 recommendations:
· Implement a single log-in for the website (or do away with a log-in altogether).
· Improve the design of email alerts and the e-bulletin.
· Post more material in French and Spanish (and in other languages).
· More frequent and substantive website updates on research, events and publications.
· Make more publications available as PDF downloads.
· Use new and social media, such as videos, podcasts, blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
· More frequent and direct engagement with UN, civil society and research constituencies, especially from developing countries.

How UNRISD is responding

With a partial website redevelopment now under way, UNRISD is taking users’ recommendations into account. We have already addressed some readability and layout suggestions for email alerts and the e-bulletin. Titles and summaries are being written with readability in mind, and we are increasingly focusing on the substance of presentations or their relevance in particular regions. We are also planning to include more visuals on the website, e-bulletins and email alerts. Email alert subscribers can set their profile to receive emails in HTML format, or text only. We are publishing as much content as possible in Spanish and French, as well as other languages, when our resources allow.

A more comprehensive website redevelopment, planned in the run-up to UNRISD’s 50th anniversary, will allow us to address broader recommendations regarding website usability and structure.

Some respondents raised concerns about the availability and pricing of UNRISD books. We are aware that books published commercially are priced beyond the means of many individuals and institutions. At the same time, copublishing with renowned academic publishing houses confers scholarly recognition and quality control. We make every effort to square this circle—including the publication of selected book chapters on the UNRISD website and free online posting of draft research reports. Our copublishing partner Routledge now offers a number of UNRISD titles via Paperbacks Direct; Palgrave Macmillan is expanding its offering of e-books, including UNRISD volumes. The 2010 UNRISD flagship report, Combating Poverty and Inequality, is distributed via UN Publications which offers discounts for developing and least developed countries, and an ebook will be released soon. Our new communications strategy will consider how to integrate open access publishing.

The changing context requires that we move towards making electronic publishing our default for some of our products, such as Programme Papers. We hope to identify a viable print-on-demand option for those readers who still prefer their publications in print.

As many respondents suggested, the Institute has a group and a page on Facebook, a Skype account, a Twitter account and a Linked In page. Facebook and Twitter can be accessed from the UNRISD website homepage. Users are encouraged to like the Facebook page (which spells out the UNRISD acronym), follow UNRISD tweets, update the UNRISD Wikipedia entry, and connect on Linked In. Our new communications strategy will consider how to strengthen our relationships and improve networking through social media, online forums and other channels.

The survey also elicited concrete suggestions for collaboration, as well as much positive, encouraging feedback.

“Thanks so much for your great and significant work—over so many years!”

“I’m pretty happy with the way it works now. I appreciate getting e-mail alerts and newsletters that direct me to new reports and other publications that I can download.”

“I think this survey is an excellent step. However, UNRISD needs to develop strategic action plans that identify who needs to see the results of the research, when and where.”

UNRISD agrees. This survey is one step towards the development of a strategy for making our work more relevant and useful for our audiences through effective communication and engagement. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to respond so thoroughly and honestly.