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Guidebook 29 Planning & Evaluating Your Research Communication Evaluation and Feedback What Are Evaluation and Feedback? Conduct Budget-friendly Evaluation and feedback are additional and Informal Evaluations important ways for you to ensure that your communication relates to the audience's needs In the planning stages of your research, and values, makes the best use of channels, when you are determining the context and, above all, is effective. Most transportation in which to present the study, look for researchers have limited budgets, so getting the current trends in the field and the events most from those dollars for any communication of target communities and audiences. is extremely important. By seeking feedback and This provides a strong foundation for your evaluating your communication effort at every communication planning, based on the values of the target audience. step of the research process, not only will you stick to your budget, but you will also make the Once you have moved from planning strongest impact on your audience. to creating the communication plan, schedule time to pretest your messages. Pretesting by audience members and Formal evaluation methods often use surveys or technical experts is emphasized in the focus groups to determine important issues for earlier discussion of content. the target audience. Large organizations employ Although formal focus groups can these methods through help improve your message, a cost- nationwide phone effective alternative is to ask five or six representatives from your target surveys or focus audience to review your materials. groups to test a product and Ask communication and subject matter provide feedback. experts and audience members for feedback on the content and style of your They may also test communication messages and materials. audience awareness or This feedback can alert you to distracting beliefs before and after type and color choices and the emotions reading, seeing, or hearing a communication they evoke, as well as any part of the campaign. This method of pre- and post-tests is message that is unclear. valuable because it gives a baseline for audience Finally, conducting brief surveys or knowledge or beliefs before exposure to the conversations with audience members campaign, such that changes in beliefs or values at the conclusion of the research effort can be tied to the campaign. Each method will alert you to the overall effectiveness reveals information about the effectiveness of the of the communication and can inspire campaign, but informal evaluation and feedback new ideas. can be just as effective--and they are budget friendly. Goals also direct communication toward a focal point, such as gaining acceptance for a new policy Regardless of the formality of the evaluation and or procedure. Without a specific goal, you may feedback methods, establish your communication inadvertently design a fantastic communication goals up front. Goals provide targets for which plan that accomplishes very little. While your audience you want to reach, what channels communication efforts may be visually appealing you should use, and how often you should and reach a large audience, the point of the communicate with that audience. communication may be lost without direction.

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Guidebook 30 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Decide on the end goal for the communication Because developing communication concepts, plan, and seek evaluation and feedback to ensure strategies, and materials is an art, evaluation that the campaign strategy, messaging, and and feedback can also play a role during materials work toward and can achieve that goal. communication planning. Individuals have backgrounds and experiences that influence how they see the world and, thus, how they Why Are Evaluation and Feedback perceive your research as communicated to them. Important? Because of these different points of view, testing Just as transportation researchers evaluate messages with stakeholders and members of the new materials for the effectiveness of structure target audience takes on practical importance. designs, you will need to evaluate the success of Pretesting the concept or themes of the your communication efforts for several reasons. campaigns, the specific messages you plan to use, and the packaging of the campaign with actual members of your audience accomplishes First, it will help you become a more successful several tasks: communicator. By documenting the strengths and weaknesses of your communication efforts, you can incorporate strong elements into future Pretests can make certain that messages efforts while improving upon weaker areas. are understood and memorable. It is often Second, evaluation and feedback help ensure beneficial to have fresh eyes review your that the audience receives the intended message, materials, because after spending large demonstrates a new level of knowledge, and/ amounts of time looking at and thinking or takes the actions encouraged. In essence, about a document or a presentation, you evaluation and feedback can show that you met may see more in the message than is the research communication goals. actually there. Asking new and relevant audiences to provide feedback can focus attention to unclear or unmemorable Finally, evaluation and feedback are important messages. because they document your success and show Pretests help ensure the cultural and communities, political leaders, and granting social acceptability of the content, institutions that you spent their money wisely. channel, and style of the message. This They may be more likely to give additional time cultural consideration directly impacts the and money to programs and projects headed by communication channels that you will use. a team with demonstrated success. By evaluating and documenting their communication efforts, Pretesting can help you navigate the researchers can provide strong evidence for the cultural and social complexities found in all value of their projects. target audiences. It is important to show sensitivity to racial, gender, and ethnic stereotypes, because these factors may all influence the choice of language and "Evaluation and feedback are images that are incorporated into different important because they document your messages. Also show sensitivity for social factors and contexts. While September 11, success and show communities, political 2001, was a significant day in the entire leaders, and granting institutions that United States, images of the World Trade Center may play differently in New York City you spent their money wisely." and Washington, D.C. than in other parts of the country.

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Guidebook 31 Planning & Evaluating Your Research Communication Asking the intended audience to provide feedback on communication efforts at the conclusion of research helps researchers and program managers evaluate how well the Using program achieved its overall objectives. Knowing Evaluation Effectively what worked well and what did not informs Have clear and realistic goals. researchers which goals were accomplished and These goals will guide your which areas may need to be readdressed. communication campaign and will help you determine what kind of evaluation Evaluation is also important for learning, so in and feedback you need to collect. Informal the future you can target your audience better feedback may be appropriate in some and avoid the pitfalls of current communication cases, but more formal methods are necessary to measure the knowledge or efforts. Finally, evaluation and feedback allow intentions of your audience. you to document and share your best practices. Keeping track of lessons learned is valuable for Get feedback throughout the process. your future efforts, and it also allows you to be a Get opinions and insight before you begin the campaign, at several points resource for other transportation researchers. throughout the campaign, and after the campaign has concluded. Take pictures. Pictures of researchers in the field or interacting with audience members can be integrated into effective and personalized campaigns. Make use of existing relationships. Local champions and governmental leaders have insight into audiences' needs and values. They can help gauge whether or not your strategy is appropriate for the audiences. Collect case studies. Stories about a product or process from an audience member give campaigns a more personal touch.