Dissemination of research findings: ‘The forgotten audience’?

Written by Hassan Njie, PhD researcher, University of Oslo 

Most researchers would think presenting abstracts or posters in conferences is the best way to communicate our findings. This would be an undisputable fact if our research is confined to academic and research environments only. But, this is not the case.

The forgotten audience outside academia

As researchers, many of us would agree that fulfilling this task and publishing our papers in reputable journals would be considered ‘mission accomplished’ for our research group. However, we think our work would be considered incomplete if the communities where we collected our data from don’t get access to our findings. This is one key oversight that researchers – including PhD students – don’t consider when planning how to disseminate their research findings. 

Sharing key findings to inform public policy

Few months ago, the Ministry of Health of The Gambia invited me to share key findings of our research with policy and law-makers, development partners and researchers. This invitation came in the wake of government’s effort to reform the health financing landscape with a view to propelling the country towards the path of Universal Health Coverage. To achieve this, the government is in the process of introducing a mandatory National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) that will pay the healthcare cost of patients in The Gambia. 

We think our work would be considered incomplete if the communities where we collected our data from don’t get access to our findings.

Hassan Njie, University of Oslo

There is growing call to use research to inform public policy particularly in developing countries. This is important because it enables governments to formulate and implement policies that are responsive to the needs of their populations. The need to use strong evidence to design and implement a successful NHIS in The Gambia was clearly outlined in ‘The Gambia NHIS Bill, 2020’, which is currently undergoing public scrutiny before its enactment by the national assembly. 

Our research, which falls within the ambit of evidence-informed policy and decision-making, is aimed at providing strong evidence to inform NHIS implementation in The Gambia. For our findings to add more value to ongoing NHIS policymaking, we shared our findings with all stakeholders. We received positive feedbacks following our dissemination with a recommendation to craft a policy brief to inform current and future decision-making.

Dissemination at community level gives better research

I believe that every researcher’s goal is to provide strong and compelling evidence that may address every day challenges we face in our respective communities. Therefore, our work would be more meaningful if we share our findings in informal settings. Using The Gambia as an example, most community meetings are held at village ‘Bantabas’ akin to communal town halls where major decisions affecting communities are made. This and other community platforms can be utilized by researchers to share their findings with communities. Dissemination at community levels should also be used as opportunities to subject our research to public criticism and take onboard recommendations that can enhance our work better. We should never underestimate the knowledge of communities because they could hold the keys to addressing our research objectives.

Adapting dissemination to local conditions

One of the positive lessons to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is opportunities for digital solutions. For this reason, some would argue that social media platforms such as WhatsApp can be utilized to share research findings as alternative to in person dissemination. This is true for most if not all middle- and high-income countries where cell phone penetration rate and access to strong broadband internet are high. In contrast, many low- and middle-income countries continue to grapple with weak internet, unstable electricity, and cyber securities issues. The decision to virtually disseminate findings with communities should take these challenges into account.

Among other reasons, finding workable solutions to complex societal challenges is what makes a good researcher.

Hassan Njie, University of Oslo

Making it easy to understand

To conclude, there is a need for researchers to extend dissemination of their findings to non- formal settings to enable all stakeholders including communities give constructive feedbacks. Worth mentioning is the need to share these findings in a language that most community members understand and are most comfortable with. We should simplify the messages without stating the not so well understood p-values, ratios, and other complex research jargons. I know some of you are already thinking of the in-person dissemination challenges- cultural differences, language barriers, logistics etc. However, we should endeavour to find solutions to these challenges. Among other reasons, finding workable solutions to complex societal challenges is what makes a good researcher.

Dissemination at community level (Photo: Hassan Njie)