Resource list: Philanthropy research communication

This morning at #ComNet17, about 20 social sector leaders gathered at my breakfast session to talk about partnerships between academic researchers and philanthropy/social good organizations. We concluded that it was the first time that this group of leaders — comms professionals who are primarily interested in more effectively translating and disseminating research to help drive social change — had gathered in the same room. Now we need to figure out how to keep the conversation going!

In that spirit, I have gathered a list of resources shared during our discussion. Please contact me with additional resources to add to this list and I will keep it updated.

Translation:

  • The Conversation – a news site for academic researchers to write articles about their findings
  • Greater Good – online magazine for translation of positive psychology findings

Support:

Research repositories:

  • IssueLab by Foundation Center – “Free research from social sector organizations around the world”
  • See also Foundation Center’s new campaign, Open for Good, encouraging foundations to openly share their knowledge

 

 

 

Innovative research partnership: Jeannette and Dave improve risk communication messaging training

Innovative research partnerships is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and working professionals in the community. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the partnerships, the challenges they face in their collaborative efforts, and the fruits of these partnerships. The series is posted in anticipation of my two upcoming conference sessions about research partnerships at ComNet17 in September and NCA in November. I hope to see you at one of these sessions and please be in touch if you have ideas about research partners to interview!

Today, we hear from Jeannette Sutton and Dave Cokely. Their work together addresses the improvement of communication about imminent threats, as well as quality training on this topic. Let’s start with what Dave has to say about this partnership.

Dave Cokely is an instructor at National Weather Service (NWS) Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

On what he has gained from the partnership: After being advised by Jeannette and several other social scientists on improving NWS risk communication messages, Jeannette led a training session for a group of NWS meteorologists who coordinate warning messages. Dave said that Jeannette designed a “brilliant” exercise, asking trainees to get their hands dirty developing messaging in various disaster scenarios. According to Dave, Jeannette’s training session received the highest rating of all sessions over the 4-day class, adding that she had “hit a grand slam.”

On his role in the partnership: Dave said he and his colleagues are frequently asking themselves how to better communicate watches, warnings, and advisories to the public to prompt action. Dave describes his role in the partnership as “start(ing) a two-way conversation” with an expert who had “absolutely critical information” to share with him and his colleagues at NWS.

On challenges the partnership faced: Dave reflected that “it takes work to get the door cracked open for these collaborations,” adding that he sees these type of partnerships happening more often. Dave said that sometimes it is hard to get meteorologists and scientists in his industry to pay attention to social sciences research because it is seen as a “soft science.”

On why the partnership works: Jeannette has a “great presence,” according to Dave, and when she presents social scientific evidence that is relevant to his colleagues, they listen. He said that she has helped him and his colleagues integrate insights from social science into an audience-centered approach to messaging, including a new training series about supporting the public’s decision-making process when preparing for disasters.

Dr. Jeannette Sutton is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and director of the Risk and Disaster Communication Center in the College of Communication at University of Kentucky.

On how the partnership got started: Dave contacted Jeannette after he heard her speak at a NWS-hosted hazard simplification conference in 2015, eventually asking her to lead a training on risk communication for NWS. Jeannette was asked to conduct this training again this fall by another contact. Jeannette said she works to build relationships with partners such as Dave so that they can collaborate in the future if an opportunity presents itself.

On why this research matters: Jeannette said she “has the privilege of working with people who are putting out life-saving messages” about disasters. Although Dave wasn’t involved in writing it up, Jeannette is publishing the training exercise she developed in a forthcoming journal article. She added that working with professionals like Dave ensures her research is responsive to the needs of people in the risk communication field.

On challenges the partnership faced: Jeannette said that it takes time and effort, on top of a busy teaching schedule and research agenda, to develop and maintain relationships with practitioners in the field of disaster communication. However, she frequently travels to present at and attend conferences such as the American Meteorological Society and Society for Risk Analysis to share her research and maintain relationships.

On why this partnership works: Jeannette said that she has seen the NWS grow increasingly interested in incorporating social science into their operations. Dave and his colleagues at NWS are interested in some of the same questions she is asking about how people perceive messages and the factors that influence how people interpret them.

Innovative research partnership: Chris and Lynsey explore recovery communication strategies

Innovative research partnerships is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and working professionals in the community. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the partnerships, the challenges they face in their collaborative efforts, and the fruits of these partnerships. The series is posted in anticipation of my two upcoming conference sessions about research partnerships at ComNet17 in September and NCA in November. I hope to see you at one of these sessions and please be in touch if you have ideas about research partners to interview!

Today, I highlight the partnership between Lynsey Romo and Chris Campau, who have worked together on research for a year and a half. Their research explores how students in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse talk to others about their recovery status (or not) given the stigma and negative reactions the students may face. First, we hear from Chris.

Chris Campau is the collegiate recovery program coordinator at Addiction Professionals of North Carolina.

On what he has gained from the partnership: Chris said that he learned from this research that some students in recovery simply “wouldn’t talk about it at all on campus.” This has informed his work in his current position coordinating support for students in recovery. Further, he noticed the empowerment and positivity he saw in students who possessed more communication strategies to manage disclosure of their recovery status. He said this has refreshed his commitment to conducting more recovery message training programs for people in recovery.

On his role in the partnership: Chris started working with Lynsey while he was a non-traditional student at NC State University. As a person in recovery himself, Chris was paid to conduct interviews asking participants who were in recovery about their experiences disclosing their recovery status or not. He asked about how they disclose their status and how disclosures changed based on whether participants were talking with drinking peers, non-drinking peers, or with professors. Chris has also been involved with analyzing data and writing up the research report.

On challenges the partnership faced: When he began his new job, Chris said the project had to be put on hold for several months and lost some steam. He said he felt he has been able to readjust and rejoin work on the research now that he has settled into his new job.

On why the partnership works: Chris said that Lynsey is “an extraordinary human being.” He said that what made the partnership successful is that both parties were equally willing to learn about the other’s work and expertise.

Dr. Lynsey Romo is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at North Carolina State University.

On how the partnership got started: According to Lynsey, the partnership began when an addiction treatment professional in Raleigh who had read a previous research article of hers about communication among nondrinkers set up a meeting to introduce Chris and Lynsey.

On why this research matters: This research expands on some of Lynsey’s previous research about the difficulty faced by former problem drinkers in social situations. Studying the social experiences of people in recovery and gathering communication strategies they use can help in developing support for this population in managing their new-found sobriety and identity.

On challenges the partnership faced: Lynsey said that, generally, doing applied research with community partners can sometimes take longer since you “lose some control of the process.” This can be a challenge since she is under pressure as a faculty member seeking tenure to publish her research in a timely manner. However, she said this project has been a win-win that is valuable to the community and to the academic research community.

On why this partnership works: Lynsey said that having funds to pay Chris for some of his early work interviewing participants while he was still a non-traditional student helped get the project off to a strong start. Lynsey said she and Chris have a great rapport. She added that he brings a lot to the table because “he is so passionate and has first-hand knowledge” about the research topic.

Disclosure: I have previously worked with Lynsey on research an am a co-author on the paper cited in the interview. Further, I have previously met Chris and his colleagues through research with Lynsey. I was not, however, involved in the research project discussed in this profile.

How research will drive the next stage of strategic storytelling for social good: #ComNet16 takeaways

 

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Between soaking in views of the Detroit river and DIA’s Diego Rivera mural, conference goers at ComNet16, a gathering of social sector communication leaders, found that many sessions emphasized a crucial communication challenge: good storytelling.

We know that being able to tell the story of our social issues is crucial to engaging and moving audiences. But what exactly makes for good story? What can we expect to achieve with a good story? How do we move beyond the trite, sometimes exploitative, and all-too-familiar trope: “organization x saves person y from circumstance z?”

As a researcher, I am trained to look to the data and the existing research to answer these questions. While I think there is room for more research on strategic storytelling and more translational work to make this research accessible, I was delighted to see that speakers at the conference provided some excellent case studies of how it looks to do strategic storytelling.

The first keynote with Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center kicked things off with the journey (marathon?) to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, including how research informed the campaign and messaging (read more here). Doug Hattaway later recalled how achieving marriage equality demanded shifting of the story from “lgbtq people deserve equal civil rights” to “marriage is between two committed individuals.”

John Trybus of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication introduced us to the emerging megatrends of storytelling (think virtual reality, etc.).


In an electrifying Q&A with Jesse Salazar, NY Times columnist Charles Blow reminded us that if our storytelling does not ultimately create change, we have fallen short. Storytelling has to do more than entertain or delight. Our strategic communication should be in service of changing hearts and minds, which in turn, drives social and policy change. And it can — here’s a brief review of the science behind how stories can create change.

Nat Kendall-Taylor of Frameworks Institute and Shaun Adamec reminded us of the importance of how we frame social issues. For example, do we talk about addiction in terms of empathy (“we need to identify with addicts and treat them with compassion”) or interdependence (“everyone has a stake in solving this problem”)? Though many communicators are prone to tell stories about addiction that are meant to inspire empathy, the Institutes’s research results from a sample in Canada suggested the empathy frame may be counter productive, actually decreasing support for policies that addressed disparities in the access to and delivery of addiction services. We can’t trust that our well-intended story will have the effect that we intend on our audiences. Our storytelling must utilize strategic framing.


Finally, Doug Hattaway and Alfred Ironside presented their ambitious attempt to answer some of these questions about how to frame strategic stories and messages: a research initiative called American Aspirations, based on a nationwide survey of 2,000 people about their values. There is much still to be reported about the methods used for this study and its results (I’m studying for my PhD–I had to say it).


However, I am happy to see this proactive effort meant to find common ground for persuasive communication. The crucial question, once we’ve identified common values, is how people with certain values actually respond to the messages targeting these values. Unfortunately, we can’t always assume our communication meant to target those values are indeed perceived as in line with those values.

We must commit to the task of rigorous strategic storytelling that drives change by developing stories based on the data and by evaluating our stories for impact.

Communicating global change

Poster design by Matt Abele

Poster design by Matt Abele

For my graduate Communication Campaigns course at NC State this past spring, a group of us developed a communication campaign proposal for the Southeast Climate Science Center‘s (SE CSC) inaugural Global Change Symposium. Recently, we checked in to find that the good folks at SE CSC were able to implement many of our tactics.

This Global Change Symposium, which will be held on August 28, is a first-time “meeting of the minds” of researchers, faculty, students, administrators at NC State. The SE CSC envisions this event as an opportunity to unite the various efforts across the campus to address global change.

What is global change, you say? Good question! It is a broad term meant to capture many of the complex changes occurring with regard to earth’s environmental, population, and food systems. Effectively conveying the importance and relevance of this broad concept was one of the fundamental challenges of the campaign.

 

From our proposal

The problem: Engage and persuade a diverse audience of stakeholders to attend the inaugural Global Change Symposium. Audiences included professors/researchers, administrators, and graduate students. SE CSC sought to engage an interdisciplinary group of researchers to unite the varying efforts of researchers across campus.

The solution: Create targeted messages for subgroups by type of audience and academic discipline using strategic channels to both inspire interest and justify benefits of attending the symposium.

As a team, we reviewed literature about communication campaigns, determined campaign goals, conducted focus group with stakeholders, developed messaging and communication assets, pretested messages with stakeholders, and created an evaluation plan. All of this culminated in a 80+ page campaign proposal which we presented to SE CSC in April.

Our team was delighted to find the SE CSC has utilized much of our campaign strategy and used materials we designed in their communication for the symposium on their website and emails, among others channels.

If you will be around Raleigh in August (sadly, I will not be!) I recommend you attend this exciting event to learn the latest about how NC State is addressing global change issues — and potentially get involved.

The Spring 2015 COM 529 Communication Campaigns course was taught by NC State Associate Professor of Communication Dr. James Kiwanuka-Tondo. Our team was made up of the following members: Matt Abele, Ben Lawson, Kelly Long, Tara Watterson, Alexa Wood.

Thesis: How do doctors talk to patients about sensitive topics?

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting the final touches on my thesis research project. The question in the title of this post is the general question I’m pursuing with my thesis research.

A recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education reminded us that “despite decades of research, hundreds of campus task forces, and millions invested in bold experiments, college drinking remains as much of a problem as ever.” Thus, alcohol intervention conversations between medical providers and students about alcohol can be crucial to reducing problems associated with college binge drinking.

Presenting at my oral defense

Presenting at my oral defense

However, medical providers sometimes avoid alcohol-related conversations or brief alcohol interventions. So, I pursued with my thesis research the more specific question of, how do medical providers in university health centers communicate with patients about the sensitive topic of patient alcohol use?

Results from my qualitative analysis of 14 interviews with medical providers suggest that medical providers utilize the following communication techniques during alcohol-related conversations with patients:

Reading, writing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, etc etc etc!

The process: reading, writing, analyzing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, reflecting, etc etc etc!

  •  gathering more information (beyond screening data)
  • creating a nonthreatening environment
  • providing education about consequences
  • eliciting patient ownership
  • providing tips for harm reduction
  • continuing the conversation

Additionally, providers reported the following communication challenges to conducting brief alcohol interventions in this context:

  • choosing how and when to start the conversation
  • diagnosing a resistant population
  • establishing necessary rapport for a sensitive conversation
  • maintaining credibility despite uncertainty about the efficacy of interventions

With my poster at the graduate research symposium

I presented this research at the 10th annual NCSU Graduate Research Symposium earlier this month. My hope is that some of this research will be helpful to medical professionals in the field. I am also looking forward to submitting this research for publication. For now, I’m glad to be wrapping up this phase of my research!

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; me; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

I began this project more than a year ago and cannot be more excited to see it all come together! My thanks to the medical providers who met with me, the health center administrators who helped with this project, and to my committee.

 

Top Five Thesis Memes

Like many other graduate students out there, I’m in the thick of writing my thesis this winter. I’m researching the challenges and opportunities faced by medical providers when discussing patient alcohol use with patients. More specifically, I’m looking at how university medical providers communicate with college-age patients regarding binge drinking alcohol. It’s

Of course half of the time when I’m “writing my thesis,” I’m looking at #thesismemes. I’d like to share my favorites with my fellow thesis-writing friends. Here are my top five favorites:

Naturally, a cat meme to kick us off:

Memethesis1

via thesis kitten

And of course, these classics:

Memethesis1

via thesis memes

Memethesis2

via thesis memes

Ah, the dreaded defense!

via dudelol

via dudelol

Now for my final pick. It is not actually a meme, but rather, my favorite song written about thesis-ing, John Sampson’s When I Write My Masters Thesis. Fellow thesis writes, I trust you’ll enjoy it!

How to tell your co-workers that you don’t drink

As the writer of a recent Time article about our research writes, it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a drink at work-related social functions. Time4ab

My research conducted with Dr. Lynsey Romo and colleagues and published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, involved talking to working professionals who abstain from drinking about how they communicate with co-workers about their abstinence. Some participants reported being concerned about the negative impact of their alcohol abstinence.

So, how do you “spill the beans” to colleagues that you’re a non-drinker? How do you address it the heat of the moment at a social function where your colleagues are drinking and asking why you aren’t?

Well, our research revealed several ways that participants dealt with this.

Passing

First, avoiding the confrontation by “passing” as a drinker. As one participant reported, “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm.”

Being Forthright

Some participants came straight out with it about their non-drinking status, finding that it quickly settled the issue and prevented future conversations about the topic.

Using Excuses

Another option is to use vague excuses or explanations to diffuse the situation. First, choosing to emphasize abstinence from alcohol as a personal choice that applies only to you, not your judgement of others. Additionally, humor can be helpful here. One participant said she sometimes joked that she was allergic to alcohol when people questioned why she did not drink. Finally, as profiled in the Time article, health excuses are also an option:

  • “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.” – Not drinking is the way you keep fit.
  • “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.” – Use of antibiotics prevents you from drinking.
  • “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.” – Early mornings, training and physical prevent you from being able to drink.
  • “Ugh, migraines.” – Migraine medicine requires that you don’t drink.

Read more about our study, An Examination of How Professionals Who Abstain from Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Non-drinking Identity, here.

Does workplace volunteering in groups improve employee relationships?

Image via Natesh Ramasamy

This is the general question I asked last spring when I undertook my first solo qualitative research paper. In fact, initial results from my study suggest yes, company-sanctioned group volunteer events fulfill the following relational functions for employees who volunteer together:

1. Create a positive experience together

Participants emphasized the positive nature of participating in company-sanctioned volunteer events with fellow employees. Volunteer events in the study often involved rituals to mark the occasion, such as wearing company t-shirts and photographing volunteer activities to share at the office. Brandy, an administrator at a hospital, said “I’ve yet to see a volunteer walk out [a volunteer session] with a frown on their face” upon participating in her company’s weekly reading tutoring volunteer program. Brandy said that her and other company volunteers have shared stories with one another about how the volunteer events serve as a “stress reducer,” adding that “if you’ve had that bad day, [after] going to [tutor], you’ll have a better day.”

2. Network to develop contacts in the company

Participants such as Robert, an engineer at a large company, discussed the social networking function of company volunteer events. Because his company employs more than 2,000 people at his location, Robert said he is “constantly seeing new faces” at the volunteer events he helps to organize. Robert added, “there are lots of examples of folks that I didn’t know before and now interact with at least personally… [Also] folks who I may have known who they were, didn’t know a whole lot about them, but had some tangential work connection before, and got to know them through volunteering. And then that connection was strengthened and we’ve ended up working in other ways together since then.”

image

3. Build deeper relationships with known colleagues

Other participants expressed how volunteering together helped to add layers of depth and understanding to relationships with colleagues. Brad, who works as a designer at a small firm, said that after employees at his company met family members of their colleagues at a company-sanctioned volunteer event that was open to family, they tended to “look out for each other more.” Brad said that after that experience, employees are more likely to help another employee who is swamped with work so that his or her family life doesn’t suffer. Brad added that volunteering “makes your work relationship better because you just realize, oh, they’re people just like you, they go home to the same stuff just like you do and they have the same responsibilities and the same things they care about.”

4. Leverage company impact in the community

Additionally, participants reported that they preferred to volunteer with their fellow employees rather than alone because they can accomplish more together and with the backing of the company. Robert reported that he sees volunteering with this colleagues as an opportunity to “make a much bigger impact.” He added that groups of employees “make a difference” through the 1,000 hours of service his company logged for a local food bank in addition to helping attract financial sponsorships on part of the company through employee advocacy for the food bank.

5. Collectively build company culture

Finally, participants reported that they took pride in helping to shape and encourage a culture of giving back in the company through volunteering with colleagues and increasing the visibility and participation in the volunteer program. Describing the volunteer recruitment process, Sue said “[Company name] people are really good people and so everybody will pitch in,” reflecting how volunteerism helps define the employee workforce at her company.

Given that each of these functions are only accomplished through volunteering within a group of other employees (as opposed to volunteering alone), the relational nature of these functions is revealed. Based upon these results and previous research, I propose that volunteering together at company-sanctioned volunteer events helps to cultivate social capital within internal relationships among employees of the company who volunteer together.

I’m considering expanding this project to include more data so stay tuned! Want to read more about the method of this research or see more? Click here to download a PDF of the initial results.

Note: To protect privacy of those who participated in the study, participants, organizations, and companies involved are all kept confidential and listed with pseudonyms where relevant.

Nondrinking at my first academic conference

Nondrinking at my first academic conference

Well, perhaps I did have a glass of wine or two while attending the International Communication Association (ICA) Groupconference in Seattle a few weeks ago. I use the word “nondrinking” with regard to a paper accepted to ICA which I co-authored with my colleagues (listed below!) entitled Neither Shaken Nor Stirred: How Professionals Who Abstain From Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Nondrinking Identity.

This research helped uncover communication tools available to those who do not drink for managing their nondrinking identity and stigma they may face in the workplace. Additionally, this project helped me clarify my research interest in interpersonal communication about substance use/abuse and addiction. I will be exploring this further for my thesis, which I’m starting this summer.

ICA session screenshotAt ICA, I attended sessions about topics such as stigma and mental illness and top health communication papers, and met researchers from across the world who are researching similar to me. Overall,  my first academic conference was a success! Thanks to the NCSU Department of Communication for funding to attend the conference and to Dr. Lynsey Romo for the opportunity to work on the project.