Research Methods for Information Research

7. Beyond research methods

7.1 Active research dissemination – Getting action from research knowledge

How can we get the messages from our research across to practitioners and policy makers? Producing good quality reports of research findings is obviously part of the answer but this does not in itself bridge the gap between the world of researcher (focused on illuminating and understanding issues) and of the practitioner (focused on enacting plans and managing situations). Information research would probably have much more impact on information service organisations and information providers if proportionately more money was spent on development. The proportion of expenditure on development compared with research in the pharmaceutical industry, and the consequent heavy impact on pharmaceutical practice, is instructive here. It is difficult to think of many good examples of significant research linked to larger scale development in the library and information field.

On a much smaller scale, some years ago the British Library had a sudden rush of blood to the head and set up an Information Skills Liaison Project for Schools, where the emphasis was on finding ways to get teachers, school librarians and others to profit from the research already completed on how children can develop the skills they need to handle information. Twenty years on there is still a continuing flow of interest in this work. An interesting model of active research dissemination!

Meanwhile there are various ways of engaging representative practitioners in research projects in the hope that this will help to narrow the research/practice gap. Obvious ways of doing this are to invite librarians and information managers to comment on the research design before launching into fieldwork and again at the stage when the research findings are being knocked into shape, so that implications for practice can be properly explored (workshops work well for this purpose to give practitioners time to get to grips with the ‘researchy’ issues involved). To show what this can lead to, here are some of the questions raised by further education college librarians when looking at research on how librarians can support teaching and learning, as well as some of their own answers in brackets:

How do we judge, if we are providing the right resources? (Working with teaching staff to identify good resources)

Where do we get the ‘slack’ from when staffing is being cut? (Show that something has to go to provide something new – prioritise)

How do we overcome barriers to resource-based learning? (Link activities to staff development with the end product as an added extra).

These and similar comments enabled us to check out that we were addressing issues seen as relevant by service managers and to ensure that concerns like these were properly considered in the project report.

How can researchers ensure that their research messages are taken seriously by policy makers? The answer is probably a combination of imagination and animal cunning. It is necessary to turn the richly coloured, textured and nuanced research reports into succinct, black and white policy terms if they are to be taken seriously – and if the researchers won’t or can’t do this themselves then somebody else without the requisite understanding might try it – or more probably won’t bother!

Presenting research funding to encourage action

If research findings are going to help service managers or policy makers they need to be presented in more direct and focussed ways (and at shorter length) than the traditional research report. What does this involve? Matt Miles18, a leading US educationalist, suggested the sorts of focus needed to get messages across to school managers:

The knowledge must be understood by practitioners.
It must be seen as connected to practitioners’ preoccupations.
Action images
What will this look like in practice; what will be different; where to start?
There must be motivation, interest, focused activity.
There must be ability to do what is envisaged; or professional development to build this. How many research reports begin to address this agenda? And since establishing relevance and conveying action images, not to mention professional development, probably demand greater involvement, can the researcher who is interested in changing practice afford to neglect the closely related roles of professional development and training? I don’t see how.

18. MILES, M. Practical guidelines for school administrators: how to get there New York, USA: Centre for Policy Research 1987