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Dissemination vs Public Engagement; in Other Words, Are You Serious?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'Ha, I almost forgot; we need a dissemination strategy for the report. Get somebody to sort that out. Meeting adjourned.'

You guessed right: the statement above usually occurs at the end of a long meeting discussing 'substance'; then somebody realizes that if the department/organization has spent all this money on this piece of research, it might be a good idea to get somebody to 'disseminate' it.

Usually, they have not given the matter serious thought. They have not answered basic questions.

  • Why did we carry out the research? What do we want to achieve with this?
  • In what way do we want the world to be different?
  • Who needs to know about these results/insights/findings and act on them
  • What would it take for these things to happen? And so on.


The truth is obvious if the matter is given serious thought: merely disseminating a report does not get you anywhere near an impact on the world. But I hear the word so often  -- as you can guess it really gets on my nerves -- I thought a basic primer might be in order. So, here are some basic definitions from Roget's 11: The New Thesaurus.

Disseminate: verb, To pass something out: circulate, disperse, distribute, hand out.

Engage: verb, To get and hold the attention of: involve, occupy.

So, now it is fair to ask: do you want to merely disseminate or do you want to engage other minds? More important, are you serious at all or is it the case that you don't really care whether your expensively gathered data/insights/ findings make any difference?


Photo Credit: Flickr user andrewodom

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Submitted by Chrissy on
Dear Sina, I doubt anyone engaged in this work "doesn't care," but may face more practical constraints in terms of budget or know-how. What tools does your unit offer to assist with more engaging dissemination strategies? If there's not a coherent institutional standard, individuals will continue dissemination in an ad-hoc way. I am in complete agreeance with the value of public engagement, but insinuating that staff don't care is misguided and does not present an actual solution.

Submitted by Daniel Amponsah on
Sina's broader point is that public engagement, and by extension communication, is usually an afterthought. Misguided? I wouldn't characterize it as such. The practical-constraints-in-terms-of-budget reason (read execuse)is at the heart of Sina's point, in my view. But I hope you get in touch with Sina on your question on tools. You'd be glad you did.

Sina's point resonates well with my experience of working with researchers around the world. All of them want their research to become useful and used, and most of them would argue that communication is an important and necessary part of achieving this end. But how important? The incentives for researchers to communicate and engage with multiple audiences are perverse: they get points for peer-review journals and that's about where it stops. DFID have - to date - taken the lead in ensuring that researchers take communications seriously as part of the way that they plan and carry out their research. A proportion of DFID's funded programmes - around 15% - are required to develop a Communication and Engagement Strategy at the beginnning of their five-year life, and commit a minimum of 10% spend on these activities. Working with these consortiums as a DFID Communication Advisor for the last three years, I've seen real progress being made (see DFID's research portal for more information). The Danes have recently followed suit with the 10% spend requirement across their research portfolio, and the Australians are looking at travelling down the same path. At a time of virulent cutbacks and increased emphasis on showing 'value for money', it is perhaps timely for more emphasis - rather than less - to be placed on requiring research to systematically identify and engage with those who could and should make use of the knowledge.

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