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Guidebook 10 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Success in communicating value starts with Prepare content that respects the context identifying the "issue to sell." This guidebook is and conveys the messages crafted for your concerned with how transportation professionals audience. communicate (or sell) the value of their research Select the best channels for communication to influence the perceptions and actions of that will allow the audience to understand decision makers. While the strategies used to the message. "sell the value" vary among the groups studied for this project as best practices, the elements Use accessible styles that match both of the process they followed were surprisingly your needs and abilities and those of your consistent. This observation led to depicting the audience. process for communicating the value of research The funnel diagram shows that communicating as the following funnel diagram: the value of research is a multi-layer challenge: the upper layers of context, strategy, and content are just as important as--and in some cases even more important than--the lower layers of communication channels and style. Context What Is Context? Context is the setting or background within Communication Process which the audience will understand and assess your research. For example, what is happening Research programs must purposefully address in the world/nation/state that will make your each of the five elements contained in the funnel research relevant? The state highway budget diagram--context, strategy, content, channels, crisis? A growing tolling trend? A major bridge and style--during communication planning. collapse? Persistent road congestion? The context While every context and problem is different, the encompasses issues and trends associated with advice for success is similar: your research that are important to an audience. The context in which communication takes place influences the selection of strategy, content, Understand the context of the problem channel, and style. or research issue and how it relates to the audience; conversely, consider how the particular audience relates to the research Often, known facts, perceptions, players, issue. opposition, and a debate about or associated with your research are already in play. Where Develop a logical, appropriate, and appropriate, leverage current events as jumping- feasible communication strategy or off points for introducing your research and why plan that defines your audience and the it matters. information needs or messages you wish to communicate and how they relate to the value of your research.
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Guidebook 11 The Communication Process To leverage current events successfully, you first Describing context gives you more options in must understand how people currently perceive defining the problem and illustrating how your an issue and then strategically identify and research product presents appropriate solutions. characterize the problems or opportunities you Without context, people think narrowly. Context want to communicate to engage your target can define an issue as public in nature. audience. When people understand issues as individual problems, they may feel critical or compassionate, but they will not see policies and How Is Context Used Effectively? programs as the solution. How you identify the Using context effectively requires conducting problem makes all the difference in how people an external scan to assess the environment, view your research and its products. political or otherwise, for your communication efforts and taking stock of current events that will For example, in the Oregon Mileage Fee Concept affect your communication strategy. Linking your and Road User Fee Pilot Program case study, a communication with a current event or an issue key element of the program's of community interest brings it "closer" to your success was helping the public audience. understand the context of the problem, so the fee program could be approved. This ensured that the public understood why Using Context Oregon was pursuing an alternative to the gas tax Effectively for financing the road systems. Link current data and messages to long-term trends. Why Is Context Important? Interpret the data: Tell the audience what is at stake and When you hear a newscaster say, "In a study what it means to neglect this released today...," what follows is a succinct problem. wrap-up of the study's central finding. Take Define the problem so that the following May 2007 news release from audience influences and the California Department of Transportation opportunities are apparent-- (Caltrans): "4,304 people were killed in California connect the dots, both verbally traffic accidents in 2005, and Caltrans hopes and in illustrations. that implementing VII [Vehicle-Infrastructure Focus on how effectively the Integration] will lessen that frightening figure." community/state/nation is Just as every report needs proper "framing," addressing this problem. how well you frame the research you are trying Connect the problem to root to promote can determine how effectively you causes, conditions, and trends engage your target audience. Context is central with which people are familiar. for effective framing of your story. Source: FrameWorks Institute, "Framing Public Issues." "The key to moving your audience is to meet them where they are."
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Guidebook 12 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Another important element to using context Questions you might ask yourself when effectively: timing. When you communicate considering context include the following: is just as important as how and to whom you communicate. If you want to influence decision What is the present state of debate on the makers in your agency, for instance, you will research problem? want to time your communication to policy Should key events or timing issues be makers when they are evaluating the issues or factored in? considering the alternatives. Depending upon Will timing be a constraint? your research, timely pegs could be seasonal trends or calendar hooks (major holidays, Are other groups or people working on winter storms, spring thaw, hurricane season); this issue or conducting similar research? anniversaries of major events (natural and Are they working with you or against you? man-made disasters, landmark rulings); and Do misconceptions or misinformation events that matter to targeted decision makers about your research or your research or stakeholders (professional conferences or problem interfere with your meetings). communication efforts? If you are not gaining the support you are seeking (which may be in the form of a decision on the use of your research innovation or future funding for further research), you may need to reconsider your research context: sometimes you need to rethink how you talk about an issue. California Seismic Bridge Retrofit Program In the California Seismic Bridge Retrofit Program case study, the catalyst that motivated the research and defined its value was the problem of earthquakes and the threats they present to life and safety. The history of major seismic events in California and their catastrophic outcomes demonstrated the need for this research. However, the value that decision makers place on research funding and the political situation still had to be considered. In deciding which research projects to invest in, these decision makers needed information from researchers. In this case study, communicating the value of research meant that researchers had to position their research in the right context to capture the interest and match the concerns of decision makers. They did this by communicating that their research was: The right issue--They showed how research for seismic bridge retrofits was relevant to decision makers. The right level of importance--They demonstrated how serious earthquakes are and the negative effects of not retrofitting bridges. The right time--The researchers capitalized on and reminded decision makers about recent earthquakes while those events were fresh in the minds of decision makers.