Seen and Heard: Hertie’s Multimedia Interactive Research Workshop

The ‘Public Policy and Governance Review Abroad’, or PPGR Abroad, is a new initiative for 2014. Undertaken in collaborative with exchange students from the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto, it will featured policy insights and analyses direct from Berlin and Paris.

Anjela Deyanska

What drives research? Is it the desire to explore and uncover, to connect the dots, to make sense of complex issues, or to offer paths for improvement and solutions? Whatever the motive, ask yourself how many people read your last research paper and you will likely be able to count them on one hand. Friends, relatives, perhaps a teaching assistant, and a professor — and this list might be more extensive than most. This line of thinking may lead you to question the impact of your research, and it certainly has for large multinational organizations like the World Bank.

In a self-published report released in May 2014, the World Bank examined the reach of its research efforts to evaluate which reports are most widely read and cited. Its desire to assess its organizational impact was driven by an understanding that, in the policy field in particular, researchers set out to analyze problems and offer solutions to a wide audience. Another key driver for the study was a budgetary one — between 2008 and 2012, the average cost of producing a report was $180,000. Although reaching a large audience to enhance public awareness of policy issues is part of the Bank’s research objectives, the report found that over 30 per cent of the 1,611 policy papers published between 2008 and 2012 were never downloaded, and 87 per cent were never cited.

These findings, published as a PDF, initially gained significant traction in the media; however, coverage has since subsided. Yet the numbers continue to resonate with researchers and graduate students who are left to wonder: if the World Bank, an internationally recognized institution, struggles to disseminate its research findings, what chance do we have in reaching our target audience?

For three graduate students at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, this presents a critical obstacle that must be overcome if one hopes to make meaningful contributions to the field of public policy. Driven by this affirmation and their combined international experience with different research methods, the students organized Hertie’s first Multimedia Interactive Research Workshop on November 18th. The event brought together 30 graduate students, alumni, and researchers to work together in groups of five on policy topics ranging from cultural policy, to climate and energy, to voter turnout. Participants were asked to identify topics of interest at registration, and were invited to form teams with diverse backgrounds.

Over the course of four hours, organizers walked participants through an interactive research approach that combined short instructions and various stages of practical application. Participants were encouraged to use different mediums to illustrate each phase of the research design, engage in the feedback process with other groups, and visualize research paths. Determining our target audience was a critical component of the exercise, as the effectiveness of dissemination efforts would depend on knowing our audience and how to reach them.

Visualizing our research path was another vital step, and one that presented challenges in a group setting. When conducting individual research, the research path you choose is self-explanatory; but in a group setting, you are forced to explain choices and opinions, provide feedback on others’ ideas, and work collectively to find a middle ground that makes sense to all group members. It is an exercise that ultimately improves the quality of the research effort, as its applicability is understood by more than one person. Collaborating also allows the flow of diverse ideas as each member brings in a different perspective, shaped by their unique experiences, interests, and backgrounds.

While the benefits of collaborative depend heavily on group dynamics, communication styles, and delegation techniques, the interactive nature of the workshop served as a reminder of what participants stand to gain from such a process. The final products were presented in an informal setting, with each group highlighting the prospective end result of their research path. Each proposal featured tools for visualization of research findings, varying from murals in community settings, info graphics, interactive maps, and social media campaigns. The diverse strategies all shared a common thread: a focus on the audience.

Arguably, access to research has never been easier — yet what is and isn’t being read may depend more on the accessibility of disseminating information as opposed to the ability to download a PDF. When the goal of research is to inform public discourse, perhaps it is time to branch out of the plain text format of academic research and find new ways to reach and resonate with a target audience.

*”Moving beyond PDFs” is a Facebook group open to the public. Students and researchers are welcome to join and share experiences and expertise:

Anjela Deyanska is a second year MPP student at the School of Public Policy and Governance, and is thrilled to be doing a semester abroad at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. While she hoped the first year at the SPPG would concentrate her policy interests, truth is she’s still working on that. Some of the areas Anjela is most drawn to include migration policy, education policy, civic engagement, and gender equity. Her notes are always covered in doodles, so be advised if you ever decide to borrow them. She’s excited to soak up as much of Berlin as possible and come up with some great blog content while she’s at it.

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