When we were first brainstorming the knowledge mobilization topic to present on at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness last month, someone on our team asked, “How has COVID-19 changed the way we mobilize knowledge?” Our first reaction was – it hasn’t. We’ve been sharing content online for over a decade.
But as we started thinking about their question more deeply, we realized we had changed our approach, realizing the sectors’ need for more immediate, practical information now more than ever. Suddenly, the world had shifted all in-person meetings, training and events to online. So as folks were trying to make sense of how to respond to the pandemic, new Facebook groups and other virtual communities of practice began to pop up to be able to support one another.
In the early days of the pandemic, we spent a lot of time doing ‘social listening’ – paying close attention to the needs of our followers on social media, to learn what types of resources and information the sector was most in need of during this challenging time.
One of the challenges mentioned, again and again, was how to do harm reduction in this new reality, so we quickly coordinated a webinar series on this topic. The webinar allowed for Q&A with an expert on the topic. We then used the Q&A to determine the next topics in the webinar series. We also converted the webinar and ensuing discussion into a blog series, which also informed the free Harm Reduction training we developed for our professional development website, the Homelessness Learning Hub. In doing so, we’ve been able to repurpose content (in this case, a webinar recording) and make it available through various platforms and channels, with the goal of reaching the widest audience possible.
In addition to doing social listening, we also directly asked our audience what tools and resources they are most in need of. In a survey of the youth homeless-serving sector we conducted with A Way Home Canada during the early days of the pandemic, we learned organizations were eager for information and tools that can directly support their staff. Infographics were said to be the most preferred way to receive this information – which makes sense for an audience who has very little downtime and needs to get pertinent, actionable information quickly.
So what does all of this mean for how you share your research learnings so they can have a greater impact? Just as prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, listening to your audience’s needs is key.
Determining Your Audience Needs
So, how do you determine your audience needs and what online channels they’re using? The first thing you need to do is determine who your audience actually is.
Start by asking yourself 1 question: Who would benefit from your research or findings? Make a list of all the stakeholders whose work might be impacted by the information you have to offer. Try to be as specific as possible. Once you have a list of all your stakeholders you then know who your target audience is.
Your list could include:
- Frontline workers in the _____ sector
- Program managers working in the _____ sector
- Policy-makers working in the _____ sector
- Government responsible for _____
- Funders investing in _____
- Researchers working in the _____ space
- Members of the general public interested in _____
Once you know who your audience is, it’s important to get clear about why they should care about your work. Ask yourself a second question: How will your work help each audience group? What needs does my target audience have that my work can help fill?
Will it make their job easier? Help them do their job better? Inform their understanding of an important topic that they care about?
Your list could look something like :
My research will help:
- Funders make better decisions about which programs and projects to fund
- Frontline staff determine the best ways to engage with service users
- Program directors/managers develop programs built around evidence-based findings
- Policy-makers write more effective and equitable policies
- Researchers develop a knowledge base for their own research
- Members of the general public understand the truths about homelessness
Again, the more specific you are, the better. You must be clear about why your target audience should care about your work. Be clear on what they will gain. It’s always a great idea to have your ear to the ground to find out what people in your target audience are struggling most with, and identify the ways your research has the potential to support them. And if you don’t know, find ways to ask!
It’s also important to anticipate what your target audience might need to use your work the way you would like them to. The third question to ask yourself is: What does my audience need to be able to access my work?
It’s important to share your research with your audience in ways that are accessible and engaging for them. Remember, most people do not have access to academic journals, and likely have limited time to read research reports. So to help get your research and findings into the hands of your target audience, could you distil key findings into a blog post? A fact sheet? Could you host a webinar or write a policy brief? Something they can print off and keep on the side of their desk while they’re working? An infographic they can save on their computer or phone to refer back to? Think about the content formats that your target audience would be most likely to use and engage within their day-to-day work.
Make sure to capture your brainstorming notes about your target audience and their needs in a Google doc. This will help you later on when it comes time to actually promote your work online.
Determining the Right Tools to Use
Once you’ve determined your main audiences and their needs, you can get to developing the tools and resources they’ll benefit from the most. This might sound daunting and like a ton of work requiring a large team, but it doesn’t have to be!
Our approach at the COH has been to create several various knowledge mobilization products from a single research project, such as webinars, blogs and infographics, understanding that our audience uses various channels to access our content. These ‘layers’ of content allow our audience to dive as shallow - or deep - into the research as they’d like. We then make a plan to produce new tools and resources on the topic (often repurposing existing content) for months to come. Importantly, all of these layers direct our audience back to the original research report.
I’ll give you an example. We released our Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) Program Model Guide and Operations Manual back in June, 2021. Combined, these documents are hundreds of pages long, but they’re jam-packed with case studies and helpful tools and resources. There’s no shortage of great information provided to support anyone planning to create and run a HF4Y program, but it’s a lot to digest in one sitting.
We’ve been working on highlighting key content from the report and manual in the form of social media content, short videos and blog posts, giving each case study a spotlight, as well as blogging responses to the questions we anticipate our audience may have about HF4Y. This approach has allowed us to continue to regularly promote this research nearly 6 months post-launch, and we have enough content to continue this approach well into the new year. Each time, we aim to reach a different segment of our audience – a policymaker new to the concept of HF4Y, to someone already working to implement the program model within their community but needing additional support to do so.
The most important takeaway from all of this is mobilizing knowledge doesn’t end on the day your research paper or report is published. Choosing the right channels to reach your target audiences is key.
Using Social Media to Mobilize your Research
So now that you’ve heard about how you can approach developing tools and resources based on your target audience and their needs — you may be wondering: How do you actually share these tools and resources online?
- How do you choose which social media platforms to publish on?
- What should you include in your social media posts?
- Are there tools that make managing social media easy?
- And how do you know if your social media efforts are actually working?
Choosing Social Media Platforms
Remember that google doc with your brainstorming notes? It’s helpful to start there.
Review who your target audience is, and make an assumption about what platforms you think they spend the most time on. You don’t need to be on all the platforms, choose one or two that you think will have the biggest impact and that you and your team have the capacity to manage. Quick tip: Twitter is a great platform for researchers
Best Practices for Social Media
Use a content calendar to thematically plan out your content based on your target audiences and their needs. Ask yourself: What questions might they have about your work that impacts how they engage with it?
Keep your social media messaging short + concise. Be concise but not reductive - the language you use to frame your message is important, and can serve as a guide for others to talk about the issue. Be careful you’re using language that is “politically correct” and respectful.
Always use graphics, images or videos:
Always use hashtags + keywords. Choose 1-3 hashtags per post, and they should be centred around the keywords of your message. Think about the keywords others would use when searching on Twitter, and use those!
Use a social media management tool, like Hootsuite, to pre-schedule up to 30 posts in advance so your posts can roll out on autopilot!
Where Can You Learn More?
To learn more, check out our FREE 3-part series Knowledge Mobilization for the Homelessness Sector on the Homelessness Learning Hub!
Don’t have the capacity to do these communications on your own? Hub Solutions can help!