Funders have tremendous influence over what research gets lifted up and whose voices in research are heard. As a central strategy for promoting the uptake of ideas, how, and what grantmakers communicate about research matters.
Grantmakers can make a critical difference in broadening the actors that shape research by supporting projects that bring practitioners, policy makers, and lay leaders into various aspects of the process, and lifting up the research that emerges from these partnerships. Similarly, funders influence whether the voices of communities of color and other underrepresented groups are indeed represented in the research that they fund and feature.
From how an RFP is crafted to which research is presented through funders' communications vehicles, grantmakers play an influential role in diversifying the perspectives that inform knowledge, broadening the outlets for knowledge-sharing, and investing in innovative approaches for communicating evidence.
Articles, tools and examples of communicating research are summarized here.
Examples of RFP Guidance Language
In its guidance to state and local education agencies, the Ed-Fi Alliance suggests considering adding glossaries to RFPs. Such tools provide guidance and support to prospective applicants.
See guidance examples here:
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation RFP Glossary of Terms: This glossary clarifies key terms defined by the Foundation. This example demonstrates the importance of common language to level the engagement with all partners.
William T. Grant Foundation Research Proposal Guidance Documents: The Foundation has published several guidance documents for applicants for their research and scholars grants. The guidance ranges from conceptual pieces to help potential applicants understand the basis for the Foundation's priorities to guidance on determining fit between potential proposals and the Foundation's criteria.
Samples of RFPs
These RFPs communicate funding priorities to support various efforts related to democratizing evidence:
The Institutional Challenge Grant encourages university-based research institutes, schools, and centers to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations in order to reduce inequality in youth outcomes. The grant incentivizes research institutions to shift policies and practices to value collaborative research. Proposals from teams with African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American members in leadership roles are strongly encouraged.
Research-practice partnerships represent a core investment strategy for the Spencer Foundation, with the Foundation supporting collaborative and participatory partnerships for up to three years.
Changes to RFP language can be subtle, and the process behind such changes is often undocumented. Brief commentary on the development of specific language is provided on the RFP examples that follow:
The Foundation for Child Development has taken up explicit language (p.1 in guidelines) encouraging applications from a wide range of potential grantees and applicants to special initiatives:
"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..."
Diversifying How and What Evidence is Communicated
Why Am I Always Being Researched?: This guidebook explores power dynamics in evidence-making leading to bias in evidence production and use that hinders better decision making and investment in communities most in need. The first part of the guidebook (p. 18 -26) lays out the rationale for changing the ways in which evidence is made, and the actors engaged in making evidence.
The Asterisk Nation Data Disaggregation Resource Page: Part of a comprehensive resource site, this page raises the challenges of disaggregating data on Native American populations and in measuring small populations generally. The site provides guidance on how to raise the visibility of Native populations in research.
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 interactions and has worked with faith leaders to convey messages both in sermons and less-commonly targeted interactions.
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 and Black and Spanish-language outlets, local television stories and editorials; and other hyper-local media outlets -- leaflets in neighborhoods where city council members live and targeting 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 the 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.
Simultaneously, they trained young people in delivering evidence-based alternative content to counter prevailing narratives. The station began to add local artists to its line-up and host in-depth explorations of community issues. In a monitoring follow-up three years later, the Center noted an 80 percent increase in representation of youth, people of color, and local artists .
Creating Simple, Engaging Data Visualizations
Increasing attention is paid not only to which data are presented, but how. Funders shape expectations around how data are communicated and play an instrumental role in lending visibility and credibility to community-generated and responsive formats for communicating evidence.
Guidance on Data Visualizations
Show Me the Story: Data Visualization: Practical resource with tips and examples to share with researchers and communities working together to create highly visual ways to communicate findings, and to inspire funders to increase their use of visualizations to communicate their own learnings.
American Evaluation Association Potent Presentations Initiative: A resource hub for supporting evaluators in improving their skills to deliver presentations of findings that get to the bottom line, provide clear explanations and leave audiences with an understanding of the actionable elements.
Data Visualization Examples
Sidewalk Science: A set of techniques and strategies to bring research into the streets, engaging community members in dialogue about findings. Multiple modalities and focuses may be employed – from populating a “crowd-sourced” neighborhood map to providing answers via post-its or white boards to open-ended analysis questions.
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.
-NCAI Policy Research Center
Communicating with Communities in Mind
Increasingly, researchers, communities, and funders are paying attention not only to what research is being produced, but also to how that research is being communicated. The Public Science Project has dedicated much of its work – committed to participatory engagement throughout the research process – to getting the communication of research findings right. Their work with the Bushwick Action Research Collective of New York City on community school planning was the context in which they drew on the divergent thinking of individuals from diverse perspectives and life experiences, utilizing 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.
In the Bushwick project, rapids research products and video shorts were presented as research products alongside traditional reports. The Public Science Project produces a range of traditional and creative research products – including sidewalk “science fairs” in which data and findings are presented to the community; wearable data in which data are communicated on tshirts; maps for visualizing where community phenomena are occurring; “back pocket” reports – key data summarized in a card-sized report of key findings and take-aways; and street theater in which issues are presented on the street, using drama to draw out research themes, using two or more research team members to present the issues publicly and passionately, inviting community members to engage in analysis as well.
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 techniques with community partnerships around the world.