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 Communication and Impact Plan
    N.B. TLRP generic project work ended in September 2009. The below information is for reference only.

Introduction


In TLRP, we expect to maximise impact by collaborating closely with potential users of our research. An aspiration to be 'interactive, iterative, constructive, distributed and transformative' is set out in the Communication and Impact Plan, produced in the early years of the Programme.


Communication and Impact Plan

Communication and impact objectives:

Our objectives for effective communication and maximum Programme impact on policy and practice are to:

  • support the Programme's primary objective of enhancing outcomes for learners at all ages and stages in education, training and life-long learning;

  • engage with teachers, trainers and learners to ensure our research reflects their needs and is transformed and communicated effectively in discussion with them, so as to maximise its relevance, usefulness and impact;

  • form effective partnerships with organisations, groups and individuals who can contribute to and benefit from the Programme's work;

  • promote the Programme's contribution to the development of policy in the field of teaching and learning.

    What is "impact" for the Programme?

    We conceive impact not as a simple linear flow (of research followed by transformation, dissemination of findings and adoption into practice and policy), but as a much more collaborative process: interactive, iterative, constructive, distributed and transformative. We are also engaged in a much broader range of activities throughout the Programme than just undertaking and disseminating research. For us, impact therefore includes increasing awareness of new ideas and openness to change as well as direct influence on practice and policy. Working for impact is embedded in everything we do from formulating research questions through to evaluating research influence on individual practice, not just "what we do with the results". We further recognise that impact comes not just from "successful" research: lessons from unexpected outcomes of activities may be just as valuable. Effective communication in support of influence and impact is problematical for the Programme, as for others, for a number of reasons:

  • the world of teaching and learning is very complex. Producing high quality research is our wellspring for maximising impact, but this is not necessarily the main factor in practitioner take-up. We must compete for the attention of all our potential audiences;

  • generalising from the immediate research setting across varied teaching settings is difficult for researchers, change agents and policy makers alike. Practitioners and their managers also have to consider whether the ideas and findings in question would work in their particulars circumstances;

  • engaging and sustaining the commitment of the widest possible range of partners over the long term is very demanding on resources, energy and intellectual capital;

  • policy makers and managers tend to look for well-packaged solutions for defined problems, while research realities are more messy. They work in very different contexts and to different timescales from the research community. They are also likely to be more receptive to research if it supports a desired policy direction and offers succinct, clear-cut advice;

  • transforming research so it has wider value and can be applied by stakeholders to their own circumstances is notoriously difficult, and we must not over-claim what can be achieved.

    However, the Programme has substantial assets and allies in working for impact. These include: the quality of our research teams;

  • the Programme's independence, reputation and credibility with key decision making bodies and individuals;

  • our ability to offer a wider range of other assets beyond the research projects - research reviews, conceptual and methodological developments, policy inputs, emerging findings, capacity building, interaction with a wide range of social science views;

  • the networks of communication and influence in organisations which share our aims and want to engage with the process of putting research evidence at the forefront of the day to day operational context of teachers, trainers and other practitioners;

  • the support throughout the different teaching and learning communities for making best use of trustworthy evidence of good practice.

    Strategy for Impact

    The main components of our strategy are:

  • working with networks of practitioners, learners and others to deliver, transform and communicate research evidence and other assets (reviews, methodologies, perspectives, etc.) to the widest possible number of their peers, and to convince practitioners to apply its recommendations to their practice;

  • engaging with a wide range of user organisations and other stakeholders to embed the aims, approaches and findings of the Programme in the cultural context of both research and practitioner communities;

  • contributing to (and where appropriate organising and leading) strategic debates about teaching and learning, to influence policy and practice;

  • working with key organisations in the field to raise the profile of evidence-informed teaching and learning as a significant and effective route to lasting improvements in attainment of learners;

  • communicating conceptual, methodological and practical approaches at both Programme and project level to research, practitioner and relevant policy communities;

  • supporting training and other capacity-building activity which improves the ability of the teaching and learning community to undertake relevant research and transform it appropriately for a range of audiences.

  • facilitating the learning and co-operation opportunities generated by discussion between projects within the Programme, to develop both conceptual and practical advances in transforming research into impact.

    Communication Flows

    Effective communication, influence and impact involves not just the transmission of messages but listening to the whole range of stakeholders. Information and analysis must flow:

  • into the Programme: so that we hear the views of all our audiences about how to engage their interest and support; and so that they help to shape research priorities, the choice of projects, the conduct of the research and how research findings are transformed and communicated.

  • from the Programme: so we engage with the right people in the right formats at the right times; to ensure that we contribute to policy development; and so research findings have the maximum impact

  • within the Programme: so projects, partners and individual researchers share the development of theory, research methods etc., with a view to enhancing the quality of our research.

    Beneficiaries and intermediaries

    Learners and Practitioners at all ages and stages of learning are the key beneficiaries of the work of the Programme. For us, 'practitioner' includes all those engaged with knowledge transmission and learner support: pre-school and school teachers, tutors and lecturers in post-compulsory education; teaching and training providers in work based learning, adult education and self-directed learning. Many of these will not necessarily have overt responsibilities for "teaching", but may be acting as managers, mentors, supervisors or organisers.

    Similarly, 'learner' comprehends individuals engaged in both formal and informal learning: pre-school and school pupils, students in post-school education, workers in vocational or professional training / CPD, and adult / lifelong learning, whether structured or self-directed. It also includes teachers and trainers as learners.

    The wider range of other users and potential beneficiaries includes education suppliers; employers; professional and related organisations; relevant national and local government bodies; politicians, civil servants and other policy makers; pressure groups; and the general public.

    Key intermediaries in communicating with interested groups include the media, professional and research bodies, teacher training organisations, LEAs, school advisors and similar organisations in post-school education. The managers of teachers (e.g. head teachers, human resource managers in industry and commerce) are especially important, both as beneficiaries of the research and as intermediaries.

    The education and training research community are key partners under all these headings.

    We will continue to develop communication with these groups and others who shape educational debates, including researchers and policy-makers in other countries.

    Tactics: What works?

    The evidence base for "what works" in achieving impact in teaching and learning is still limited, although growing as a result of recent studies. There is also an increasing body of evidence from other social sciences, particularly child health and social care. The literature on the diffusion of ideas and innovations provides further insights and useful frameworks for comparison.

    The Programme is also contributing to this evidence base through literature reviews, discussion within the Programme and with partner organisations, and by contributing to public debates.

    All this work confirms that dissemination of research along basically top-down, linear paths, or merely making research available in the hope that it will lead to positive results, have been found to be inadequate. Rather there is now a consensus that influencing policy and practice is a much messier process, involving a number of forces which we and others need to operate on or at least influence:

  • promotion, by researchers and change agents such as the Programme and educational organisations, of research evidence and research use;

  • demand from policy makers and practitioners who want reliable evidence on which to base their actions -both "whether to" and "how to";

  • facilitation by a range of mediators and opinion formers;

  • control of access to resources and support for implementation by "gatekeepers", both individual and organisational;

  • resistance and inertia by organisations and individuals which inhibit evidence - informed policy and practice;

  • time constraints and initiative overload.

    Our key tactical approaches are therefore to :

  • work proactively to develop with the research, policy and practice communities better understanding of how and where research can have impact. Several seminars have already been held to discuss the nature of impact and what works in promoting it. Further discussion and debate in these areas will be stimulated as the Programme evolves, both within the Programme and with wider stakeholder communities.

  • use our limited resources most effectively. We are concentrating proactive partnership work with the organisations most central to the Programme's objectives. Meetings have been held with the most important government and non-governmental organisations to progress collaboration. We will continue to work to make the most effective use of these and other key partnerships, since the organisations / networks concerned will in many cases be the most persuasive advocates for Programme outputs and the most effective routes to maximising impact.

  • communicate and engage with other organisations mainly through paper and electronic newsletters, briefings, website postings etc. Other more active engagement will be prioritised only where there is a specific event or link to a project, or in response to an approach from them. Maintaining the nationwide scope of the Programme through engagement with the bodies which serve the nations and regions of the UK also requires careful management.

  • expand individual project networks to cover ever-wider groups of stakeholders as publicity for their work (through Programme and other newsletters, websites, information from partner organisations and media coverage of their progress) engages practitioner interest. This brings substantial benefits and a widening ripple of communication to interested parties, but is demanding in time, staff resources and money and needs careful management and prioritisation.

  • recognise the pressure on practitioners, both teachers and post-compulsory educators and trainers. They have full workloads and are already under pressure from other agencies to deliver change; "initiative overload" is a common concern. Many individuals are, of course, interested in engaging with research and where they can be identified (e.g. through memberships of partner bodies' networks, responding to Programme information / questionnaires etc.) concerted effort will be made to involve them.

  • in recognition of the Programme's UK-wide remit, endeavour to include Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and regional English voices in developing dialogue, and to work with the devolved administrations, so that our activities are sensitive to their different needs and areas of interest.

    Communication methods

    Methods of communication need to be carefully designed in consultation with policy makers, education bodies, teachers and learners so they are right for the target audiences, are well timed, and foster active engagement with them. The most important include:

  • paper and electronic bulletins, newsletters and other outputs at both Programme and project level. Where appropriate these will be purpose-designed for specific stakeholder groups and invite engagement / feedback from them;

  • website development, which will be increasingly interactive as the Programme and projects progress;

  • practical products in the form of educational materials (for example, school texts, videos, training materials), academic and non-specialist articles;

  • conferences and seminars with inputs from a wide range of contributors - policy makers, teachers and trainers, the research community, etc.;

  • informal discussions with key partner organisations and networks of influence;

  • coverage of emerging research findings and other developments in news media and professional journals;

  • Programme books on core themes, in conjunction with a specialist educational publisher. Individual projects will also produce their own books for specialist, practitioner and policy audiences.

    The Longer Term Prospect: Research Reporting and Impact

    The longer term strategy for communication and impact once research findings begin to become available should follow the principles already discussed, but will move towards a greater focus on transformation, diffusion and embedding in practice.

    (a)The second half of the Programme

    The following additional elements will be added to the current strategy:

  • Project Communication Plans - to be developed including detailed planning for transformation and dissemination of findings. Resources are available to individual Phase I / II projects for additional targeted engagement, communication and impact activity, especially practitioner-oriented materials such as videos;

  • Programme support for projects - extra conferences, seminars, publications, web resources, staff support;

  • partnerships to deliver impact - additional joint seminars, publications, teaching materials, etc. are expected as we have more results to report;

  • electronic dissemination through the British Education Index, Regard, website developments, e-impact, etc. We can confidently expect new and more powerful support technologies to be available, but it would be pointless to try to predict these too far ahead.

    The Programme envisages a series of books for policy / practitioner audiences (on undertaking partnership research in teaching and learning; knowledge transformation; and using and communicating educational research to improve learning outcomes). This plan will be reviewed depending on how existing activities evolve and on the outcome of Phase III commissioning.

    Publication in practitioner journals / magazines are likely to be a fruitful route to widespread impact. A number of high-circulation media including the DfES "Teacher" magazine, "People Management" (CIPD) and Union journals have already expressed interest in appropriate content;

    Relationships built up with the media over a period of years are aimed at generating substantial media interest in the Programme's works and through that impact on practice and learning outcomes, from articles in specialist and broadsheet press, radio and TV.

    (b) Post-Programme Impact Strategy

    With the end-date of the Programme now extended to 2008 because of Phase III, the need for consideration of post-Programme issues is less urgent. However, since longer term thinking does influence strategy for the short-to-medium term, the Programme will keep the issues set out below under review:

    i. will there be funding for the co-ordination of impact work after the end of individual projects and the Programme? Our aim should be to achieve maximum impact and best value, and opportunities will be lost if work ceases at an arbitrary date;
    ii. the role of partner organisations and networks which are not time-limited. To what extent will other permanent education / training organisations be able to take on the Programme agenda if / when it closes?;
    iii. the ability and willingness of project researchers to continue to communicate research findings after funding ends is uncertain. Many will be moving on to other research projects. We will continue to work with projects and individual researchers to address this challenge to maintaining expertise, energy, networking and human resource;
    iv. a cadre of "Practitioner Champions" to take research findings to colleagues would be immensely valuable. Creative thinking on how this can be achieved is needed, to maintain the expertise and commitment of practitioner partners after projects end;
    v. how will the Programme website be maintained, supported and ideally developed further after the Programme finishes?

    Communication Audit

    At the start of the Programme a Communication Audit was undertaken, to identify potential users and beneficiaries and existing networks of communication and influence.

    The Audit asked a range of stakeholder groups and individuals the best ways of engaging and communicating with them, with the aim of making sure we listen to their views on all aspects of the research from design to dissemination of findings.

    A further Audit / evaluation of progress is planned for late 2002, when the shape of Phase III is more defined.

    Developing the Communication and Impact Plan

    This Communication and Impact Plan is an evolving document and is reviewed periodically as the Programme progresses, to reflect changes in our priorities, project progress and findings and policy developments. The aim is to make sure that communication into and from the Programme continues to be effective and targeted at maximising our influence and impact.

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