Research Communication – Who will receive and why?

By Anomita Goswami from RECOUP-CORD in India:

India school childrenCollaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD) is a small independent research group that focuses on issues relating to education for the poor. CORD’s research focuses on primary and elementary education, education for adolescents, health and labour issues. CORD has been a three-person research team devoted to doing collaborative research and making its findings available to strengthen ongoing public debates and civil society movements towards influencing policies for disadvantaged groups.  

Being the India partner of RECOUP has been a very rich learning experience for CORD, especially in the area of research communication. Before becoming a  RECOUP partner, CORD had been following a systematically, albeit loosely, worked out plan for communicating their research. The three principal researchers, Claire Noronha, Anuradha De and Meera Samson have been single-minded in their endeavor to pursue sound field-based research and dissemination came as and when the product was honed to their satisfaction and considered ready for dissemination. The primary channel in this was informal networks, which worked wonders for CORD! In many projects, research findings were disseminated by the funders themselves or by those who commissioned the study, and they had networks with policymakers. Systematic effort was made by CORD to include the press, possible publishers and all stakeholders in the final dissemination.
Therefore, the DFID/RECOUP demand for a communication strategy and plan, focused upon ‘continuous communication’, came as a bit of a shock initially. However, it became clear by and by that what was being demanded is merely a systematic prior planning and documentation of what we were doing already. However, the task was not easy. The RECOUP overall communication strategy and the discussions at the Steering Committee meetings helped us in understanding the expectations and in shaping our strategy. Sharing and discussing the process with other partners also helped immensely to set our perspectives.

 The RECOUP communication strategy process led us to engage in activities we had never engaged before – environment and communications needs assessment, a systematic identification of target groups and possible channels to approach them and a communication strategy on paper. This input of putting a communication system in place helped us immensely and has been a very significant learning.  One  example is the launching of the CORD website, which gave CORD and RECOUP more visibility and credibility.

 However, when it came to the crucial aspect of implementing the strategy, especially in drawing the attention of policy makers to hear, share, respond and comment on our preliminary research findings, or measuring the impact of RECOUP research on poverty, we could not help gasping at the ambitiousness of the plan! CORD, while getting into the research, did not quite envisage achieving anything more than adding to the body of existent research on poverty and education and combining forces with the research and civil society community already active in policy debates towards better policies.

 In that context, the idea of monitoring, measuring and recording the impact on policy and poverty of a minuscule research such as RECOUP – one thousand households and four sites out of some 626 districts in 35 widely varied states and union territories – seemed to be not just ambitious but unrealistic; as seemed the idea of communicating the findings as representative enough to influence policy.

 There were many discussions and debates on this issue at steering committee meetings and the National Advisory Comittee (NAC) meetings (which includes government and NGO representatives).  The NAC felt that policy makers will be interested either if they were commissioning the project, or if the project was of interest to them. Here, we faced a problem from the multi-faceted nature of RECOUP. This entailed addressing multiple departments of the government machinery. The end result was that each felt that it did not pertain to their work in any significant way. This came out in sharp contrast to CORD’s other project Revisiting Education for All (REFA), which, being topical and of interest to policy makers, attracts much more attention with much less engagement in continuous communication activities and measures.

 Thereafter, the challenge in front of us was whether to follow the RECOUP overall  strategy or to carve out our own – rather we had no choice but to do the latter. Therefore, the elements we introduced into our strategy were:

 1)      Not invest time and effort in engaging policy makers directly. Efforts to do so during the inception and mid-term disseminations failed miserably! The stakeholders who are interested are – fellow researchers, donor community and groups working in the states where the research is being conducted.

2)      To focus on the pathway, outlined in the RECOUP overall strategy, of linking up with civil society groups and campaigns that were already working towards better education policies. Our link up with groups and institutions like the national Universiyt of Education Planning (NUEPA), Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST), Eklavya, Bharat Gyuan Vigyan Samiti, Nirantar, those engaged in debates around Right to Education Bill, the UN network called Solution Exchange, the India Habitat Centre-ISST gender policy forum, were steps towards this direction. 

3)      To actively build in some plan for the researched communities. We felt ethics demanded we took at least this small step to focus on the poverty of the respondents that we are talking about whose time to earn was being taken up by our long-winded and often frightfully intrusive interviews that benefited them in no immediate way. Also, those who may not be particularly interested in either our research or findings. So, we planned community workshops, a booklet on available schemes for skill development.

4)      Since another project of CORD was coming to an end and dissemination of its findings was to begin in a big way, we decided to take this opportunity to communicate about RECOUP (just as the findings of this project, REFA, were disseminated at the RECOUP MTD), and increase the visibility of CORD, thereby RECOUP.

5)      Focus on smaller, topic/target group based dissemination events, preferably with groups with similar focus, rather than a one-time huge event. This we felt would reach out to a larger audience and with more focus and strength, given the multi-faceted nature of the RECOUP research

 These changes, along with the process of developing the strategy with the help of Cambridge and the NAC members, and the debates and discussions at the Communications Workshop at Oxford in September 2009, hopefully have resulted in a stronger strategy for the Indian context. The final year will be a testing ground for that.

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