How and what grantmakers communicate about research matters. Funders have tremendous impact on what research gets lifted up and whose voices are heard through the research. They can lift up the research that emerges from partnerships with practitioners, policy makers, and lay leaders. They can also influence whether the voices of communities of color and other underrepresented groups are represented in the research that they feature.
From deciding how an RFP is crafted to choosing which research is communicated, grantmakers can diversify the perspectives that inform knowledge, broaden the outlets for knowledge-sharing, and invest in innovative approaches for communicating evidence.
Articles, tools and examples of communicating research are summarized here.
Still relevant a decade later, this joint report from Hispanics in Philanthropy and the Association of Black Foundation Executives on strategic communications pushes on the boundaries of what effective strategic communications looks like.
Guidance incorporates a wide range of strategies and examples including:
P. 12: Build communications around small scale and interpersonal engagement to mobilize action.
The Praxis Project created easy-to-use guides that helped community mobilizers target smaller-scale personal interactions. They also have worked with faith leaders to convey messages both in sermons and less-commonly targeted interactions such as committee meetings, forums, and personal communications.
P. 26: Organizing to address the structure of media coverage of communities of color.
To organize communications around housing, wage and education inequities, Tenants and Workers United focused heavily on strategic engagement of the local ethnic press, Black and Spanish-language outlets, local television stories and editorials, and other hyper-local outlets such as leaflets, church and union bulletins, and neighborhood newsletters.
P. 44: Creating venues for DIY documentary and voice.
Using analysis of news and entertainment content for a local radio station, The Center for Media Justice partnered with youth activists to kick off a communications campaign to raise public awareness of the negative representations of local youth. Challenging the station’s FCC license renewal, they flooded the station and the FCC with nearly 2,000 postcards calling for community-led content. They also trained young people to deliver evidence-based content to counter the prevailing narratives. The station began to add local artists to its line-up, host in-depth explorations of community issues, and increase its representation of youth and people of color.
This guidebook explores the power dynamics that affect evidence production and use in policy and community investment decisions. The first part of the guide (p. 18-26) lays out the rationale for changing how evidence is made and which actors are engaged in making the evidence.
Part of a comprehensive resource site, this resource discusses the challenges of collecting, analyzing, and reporting data on Native American populations. It also provides guidance on how to raise the visibility and quality of data on American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
This grant program launched by the William T. Grant Foundation encourages academic institutes, schools, and centers to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofits in order to reduce inequality for youth. The grant incentivizes universities to shift their policies and practices to value collaborative research. Proposals from teams with African Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, and Asian Americans in leadership roles are strongly encouraged.
This resource by the Bushwick Action Research Collaborative offers techniques and strategies to bring research into the streets and engage the community in dialogue about the findings. Community members contribute through various modalities from populating a crowd-sourced neighborhood map to answering questions about community needs.
The William T. Grant Foundation has published guidance documents for applicants for each of their grant programs. The guidance ranges from conceptual essays to help applicants understand the basis for the Foundation's priorities to advice on determining the fit between potential proposals and the Foundation's grantmaking criteria.
Changes to RFP language can be subtle, and the process behind such changes is often undocumented. Making those changes explicit can help applicants. The Foundation for Child Development, for example, offers explicit language (p.1 in guidelines) to encourage applications from specific underrepresented groups:
"The foundation encourages applications from scholars who are from underrepresented groups that have historically experienced economic instability and social exclusion, including, but not limited to: researchers of color, first-generation college graduates and those from low-income communities. We also encourage applications that represent a variety of disciplines and methodological approaches..."
American Indians and Alaska Natives may be described as the “Asterisk Nation” because an asterisk, instead of data point, is often used in data displays when reporting racial and ethnic data.
Communicating with Communities in Mind
It is important to pay attention not only to what research is produced, but also to how that research is communicated. The Public Science Project has dedicated much of its work to fostering creative communications strategies with and for communities.
In work with the Bushwick Action Research Collective on community school planning, they drew on the divergent thinking of individuals with diverse perspectives and life experiences and utilized a variety of participatory action research methods and communications strategies.
Communications tools did not only apply to final products, but also to the ongoing process of conducting research. Even with more traditional research briefs, the Public Science team places intentional focus on developing those in partnership with all participants interested in framing, analysis and writing.
Rapid research products and video shorts are presented alongside traditional reports. Creative research products included:
sidewalk “science fairs” in which data and findings were presented to the community;
wearable data in which data were presented on t-shirts;
maps indicating where community phenomena were occurring;
“back pocket” reports, a card-sized report of key findings and take-aways; and
street theater in which issues are presented using drama to demonstrate research themes.
For María Elena Torres, director at the Public Science Project, this work is about lifting up “the rich knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders. What we do together to access and unleash these gifts creates an exchange of the various knowings that we have and produces stronger products that are useful to communities and advance the field.”
The Public Science Project conducts institutes to share their communications techniques and participatory action research methods with community partnerships around the world.