How to present research

12 April 2011

Nick Scott’s and James Georgalaki’s comments to my post on how to organise and present research are worth sharing beyond the comments section of my post so let me copy-paste a few of their arguments here:

Nick (ODI’s online communications manager):

“Websites for think tanks [are] the place that all other communications activities come together. Most know what they are looking for when they arrive on a site, and are there to find it. That is why you need to be able to organise information by a number of competing taxonomies to give them the greatest chance of finding it; all the while trying to make those taxonomies user-focused and minimise confusion between them in the user.

“The trick is to achieve a balance of all the ‘types’ of site you have [to] offer all to those who want to find something particular,and find ways to highlight flagship reports, news, information about the organisation and any other taxonomies to users too.

“you need to be able to offer all those things all the way through a site, because the vast majority of your users won’t arrive on a home page, they’ll arrive on a page two or three levels down… [because] one of the most effective ways of reaching people … working out how …  you’re going to get them to see the information in the course of their travels around the internet in the first place…

What is your search engine optimisation strategy to get your information top on Google? How are you ensuring that your research findings are linked to from all the top online sources for each specific sector you work on? How do you get an email to a key player, and more importantly get them to read?

“It is quite a challenge and I’m not convinced that any of the organisation [in the blog] have made much progress in making the online space work for them as a proactive route for influence, rather than a reactive one that allows their information to be found and used when needed.

“In response to your question on how to present clear stories online, there are numerous ways to do it, but without some manual synthesis and a clear and focused subject it is difficult. Blogs can be great at this, as can events, podcasts, presentation. I don’t think it would be easy to achieve a clear story by just listing a set of resources, even though that is much easier to do. The most relevant attempt at this for ODI is our ODI on… pages, which we create at times of international events or the like, and where the summary should provide a synthesis of some of the key areas highlighted within the list of documents.”

James (IDS’s communications manager:

“I think you get an even starker demonstration of [the difficulty of presenting research] if you look at organisations’ Annual Reports. Here you will see some present a detailed description of themselves and organise the publication around the structure of their organisation, whilst others use it to report on key acheivements and present their brand or vision. Certainly here at IDS we did the former but are attempting this year to move to the latter.

“The, all that we do approach, is also recognising that our websites – or at least the home pages – have a broader set of audiences. At IDS our website is a marketing tool which promotes our courses, other services such as Knowledge Services as well as providing a platform for discourse on our research.

“Our home page is more concerned with reducing bounce rates and supporting our SEO strategy than anything else.

“That is not to say that we do not also struggle with the externalising internal process issues on our website. There is more debate here for instance about the search by subject research categories than anything else.”

These are all very important points that illustrate the complexity of their job. Some things come to mind (which are not just relevant for websites -as James suggests above):

  • ODI, IDS and CGD have much more broader publics -they are after all dealing with global issues and are attempting to reach publics around the world. ODI and IDS and other think tanks in developing countries have a contracting business model (and ‘sell’ a range of goods and services) and so must attempt to present them.
  • Think tanks targeting a particular public -say the British, Ecuadorian, Indian, etc.- and more so those with a specific sector focus do not need to market themselves so widely and their front pages can therefore focus their efforts on a particular report, event or message.
  • Something similar could be said about funding types: core funding may reduce the need to market ones services, proyect funding makes it so much more important.

I’ve been trying to look for a page to illustrate this (I am sure I have seen one but cannot find it now): another way of presenting information would be to outline our publics more explicitly. That is, have versions of the site or report for policymakers, researchers, NGOs, activists, the general public. Brookings allows something like this by encouraging the user to create a portfolio.

What do you think?