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A Comparison of European and North American Approaches to the Management and Communication of Environmental Research

Communication of Results

The main aim of research dissemination is ensuring research results are available to inform and support environmental policy making and regulation.   The communication of results, including the routes and mechanisms for bringing the research results to the attention of users, formed the foundation of a series of questions posed to respondents.   

  • While there is no single best way of communicating research results, the approach should be tailored to the audience and circumstances using the appropriate tools from a toolbox of available communication vehicles.
  • Understanding users’ needs for science information and their preferred modes of communication in advance of research planning and execution is well advised to inform the selection of appropriate communication approaches.
  • Summaries for non-specialists that discuss the implications of research are of greatest value to most users.
  • Peer-reviewed papers remain the standard for communicating to the scientific community, but are not effective for communicating to non-technical audiences.  In Europe, concerns were expressed regarding insufficient incentives for researchers to engage in other communication activities.
  • Websites can work well if people are actively looking for information, but are not particularly good for more passive audiences.  Information sent by e-mail may be overlooked due to the volume of messages some individuals receive.  Some interviewees remained lukewarm about the utility of the Internet: “my clients are too lazy to go to a website. If they want something they just call me or send an e-mail. They want what they want when they want it.
  • Direct communication between researchers and research users, such as meetings or workshops, help to ensure understanding of the confidence in the conclusions.  Face-to-face meetings are useful to solicit feedback from users, better inform and adjust the research agenda, and build trust between the groups.  According to one respondent: “face-to-face meetings are by far the best…there is an immediacy to them.” 
In Canada
  • The method and channel used to communicate science results needs to be tailored to the user audience.  Understanding the science-seeking behaviour and preferences of users is felt to be critically important, and concerns were expressed that more work needs to be done in this area.
  • Science producers remain focused on peer-reviewed publications, but they are also aware of this medium’s limited utility in reaching a varied audience, including decision makers.
  • Science managers, intermediaries and science users are  most aware of the need to target communication to users with varying tools such as face-to-face meetings, research summaries and reports, periodic science assessments, workshops, data sets and websites.  Some users engage in further disseminating the research to other users, in a ‘network’ or ‘domino’ strategy.
  • An impediment to communication is the long delay between research results and publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Interim communication is essential to optimally inform decision making.
Toolbox of Identified Communication Vehicles
Technical reportsRegular forums
Summaries for non-specialistsLaboratory and site visits
Papers in peer-reviewed journalsScientific conferences
State of the science reportsTraining courses
NewslettersInformal networks
Briefing notesInternet
Regular summaries of key papersProtocols
Technical guidance documentsDecision support tools
Manager-friendly graphsTransfer of researchers
WorkshopsDevelopment and deployment of technologies (innovation)
Government advisory panelsCommercialization of research
Face-to-face interactionCall-in radio shows (in certain instances, e.g., Canada’s North)