The Dissemination Stage

Once data collection and analysis are completed, focus generally shifts to writing papers and publishing them in the most prestigious journals possible. This is driven as much by funder expectations as the pressures placed on researchers to “publish or perish”. Many times, donors request/expect that publications are in journals with high impact factors. However, for local impact, other means of dissemination should be explored. When conducting research internationally, the focus is often on locally-relevant challenges and questions. Teams should give due consideration for how the research outcomes are shared and used locally in addition to dissemination through academic channels. 

The ease with which research teams are able to navigate the dissemination stage is highly dependent on the discussions and decisions made earlier in the research journey. Regardless of this, the most important element to consider at this stage is your audience. Who are they and how will you best communicate with them? It is rarely the case that the same dissemination strategy will be effective for different groups, so you should be ready to consider the best ways to reach each of your audiences. Part of ethical research practice is considering how to communicate with groups that are not likely to read or benefit from publication in academic journals. Effective local dissemination needs to consider local networks, cultural sensitivities (not “from us to you”, for example) and should be written in the local language. Patronising attitudes are disrespectful and unhelpful for effective dissemination. In navigating the dissemination stage research teams may wish to consider:

Open Access Publishing
Increasingly a requirement of funders, publishing in open access journals helps ensure that all researchers can access the results (often a challenge for researchers working for institutions without subscriptions to journals, particularly those in low and middle income countries). Even if not a requirement of the funder, teams should strive to publish in open access journals or make their work available in open access repositories. Researchers should consider the places/journals of publications with the same ethical and equitable lens they apply to all aspects of the project.

Stakeholder Dissemination
When working with stakeholders, it is important to consider the mechanisms by which you will share your results to make them the most effective for your audience. Policy makers are more likely to benefit from dedicated policy briefs rather than sharing of an academic publication. Community leaders may benefit from materials written in the local language that are tailored for community use. Alternative forms of communication (radio programmes, online video context, music, art, etc.) should also be considered as ways to share findings. For some stakeholders, the strength of the personal relationship is key and in-person meetings and engagement may be a critical part of effective dissemination.

Participant Dissemination
For research involving participants, careful consideration should be given to how those participants will be informed of what the research they have contributed to has found. Communities in Tanzania have expressed surprise when UofG researchers returned to tell them what was learned from the research they contributed to. This highlights how often teams do not consider sharing outputs with those who have helped generate them, but this is an integral part of ethical research practice. Often the findings are not fully understood until after a grant has ended, so teams should think carefully about how they will share findings with participants if no funds are available.

Dissemination Impacts
Beyond the question of how to effectively disseminate information, teams should consider the potential positive and negatives impacts created by the information they share and how they choose to share it. Will the pathways you choose (e.g. through community leaders or heads of household) reinforce or disrupt existing power structures? Could the nature of the information you disseminate reinforce or disrupt existing power structures (e.g. information about birth control in a patriarchal society)? Does the nature of the information necessitate particular dissemination strategies for the local context to ensure it gets to the target audience (e.g. distribution of livestock vaccination information to coincide with grazing patterns)? Considering the impacts of your findings and the impacts of your dissemination choices are important factors in ethical research.