Recently CCRI researchers Jane Mills and Jasmine Black were interviewed by Professor Mark Reed, as part of his Fast Track Impact blog and feature on his latest podcast. The interview arose at a SoilCare project meeting and was related to the dissemination work that Jane and Jasmine are conducting as part of this project. After mentioning the interviews to their colleague Nick Lewis, the three of them began thinking more generally about dissemination during both specific projects and within an organisational context. With this in mind, they have composed this two-part blog which considers a range of issues around dissemination and will also invite your thoughts.

As mentioned, the meeting which became the catalyst for this Blog was for the SoilCare project, an EU Horizon 2020 project running from 2016 to 2021 with the CCRI one of 28 partners. SoilCare is testing ‘soil-improving cropping systems’, (SICS) with farmers and on-research farms to see if they can be used more widely in Europe. The hope is that they will prove to be more environmentally and economically sustainable for farmers. As the name suggests, there is a recognition that better caring for the life in soil will help to achieve this.

The topic of the interview that Mark conducted with Jane and Jasmine was dissemination. Mark wanted to know what they have been doing to share findings from the project effectively and to as wide an audience as possible. Jane went on to explain that at the current SoilCare meeting they were interviewing the study site managers in each country and asked them to explain a little about the site and what they were doing there. The study site managers would then provide Jane with some footage from each of the sites, so that she can then edit this together with their interview to provide the viewer with a brief insight to each experiment. Jane believed that people were more likely to engage with something in this format and that it is easier to convey information when the audio is complemented with corresponding video.

Jane continues “although we have, and will continue to have documents and infographics explaining some aspects of a project, sometimes I get the feeling that we can achieve a more effective result by creating a short film. The time it takes the user to watch the film is likely to be a lot less than it would to read a document, which often takes a lot longer to produce”.

Theatrical storytelling by Jasmine on the subject of soil

Jasmine, who is responsible for the Social Media output of the SoilCare project continued in a similar vein explaining that she tries to create something visual when composing Tweets or Facebook posts. “On a personal level, I would love to see greater use of visual artists incorporated into the dissemination of project findings. It is crucial to understand what is most effective when it comes to sharing project output and findings, and I tend to find that the more creative and eye-catching something is, the greater level of engagement is”.

Creating something visual is an approach that Nick Lewis, who oversees the CCRI social media platforms also advocates. “It is often a way to get your message over very succinctly to your audience, so I always try to use an image that either summarises what you are trying to say, or is at least representative of it. On Twitter, which is our primary platform, it is also a way to increase the reach of a tweet as you are able to tag an additional ten users, without using up your character limit”.

With regard to social media, choosing which platform is an important decision. Nick from CCRI continues “although Facebook remains the dominant force in social media, our most successful platform by far is Twitter. We have over 3,000 followers on Twitter compared to around 450 on Facebook. Both pages were established around the same time (2010), and it seems that Twitter simply ‘worked’ better for us as our audience were often organisations rather than individuals. At the time, Twitter seemed more conducive to an organisation where there are likely to be multiple users managing one account, although certainly now you can have different user settings on Facebook”. This preference for Twitter would appear to be something echoed by the European Commission, within their guideline document for social media output as part of EU funded Horizon 2020 research projects.

“EU-funded projects mostly use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram
and Pinterest (with most preferring Twitter).” (European Commission, 2018)

Despite this, it needs to be recognised that in European or International projects, different cultures and countries may have different preferences for where they get their information from. Jasmine comments that it is “part of the job trying to understand and best use these different approaches”. An effective communication strategy is an integral part of both a research organisation or within a project, and that although social media can be an efficient way to disseminate information it isn’t something that happens overnight. It can take a great deal of time and effort to build a following and become established. This can be something which is often overlooked, and is wonderfully summarised with the following image:

Building your following, by sharing relevant information and what you or the project will be doing is the perhaps best way to do this. Jasmine thinks that “it is vital that a story is built up from the beginning of the project. People connect with stories; they’ve always been one of our primary ways of sharing ideas and knowledge”. Then when you begin to disseminate your own material you will actually have an audience with whom you have built some trust, which in turn will result in a greater reach and potential impact of your findings. The SoilCare Twitter account is a great example of this as it has over 2000 followers, many of whom are active farmers, who are the target audience for the project. This has been validated, as recently the account was analysed for an academic paper which has recently been published in a special issue of the journal ‘Soil Use and Management’ and can be accessed via the following link:

Mills, Jane. Reed, Matt. Skaalsveen, Kamilla and Ingram, Julie (2019) The use of Twitter for sustainable soil management knowledge exchange. Soil Use and Management Vol 35, No. 1, pp 195-203

All of Mark’s Podcasts can be found via this link.

In the next part of this blog, we will consider issues and obligations and also invite you to contact us with some of your thoughts.

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