Communication beyond the project

Transdisciplinary research (TDR) projects generate an important part of their outcomes and impact directly with the project teams and partners. Nevertheless, the question of how to extend the awareness about the project and its results is still important. Besides the broad range of classical science communication approaches, TDR has a unique set of potential communication vectors and impact multiplicators at the heart of each project: the project partners.

TDR aims to be relevant both for society and science. This means communication needs to address scientific communities as well as actor groups in policy and practice. A communication concept should thus address a wide range of communication channels reaching actor groups and broader segments of the civil society. These communication channels should be selected in a way that they reach:

  • The scientific community: scientific publications (e.g. articles, books), conference presentations, teaching, supervision, or mentoring of students.
  • Policymakers and practitioners: policy briefs, planning tools, strategy documents, professional journal publications, or advisory opinions.
  • Audiences that mix, to a variable degree, both the scientific community and policymakers or practitioners: workshops, courses, trainings, blogs, or Twitter.
  • A wider public audience: radio, press, television, social media, or cultural events.

TDR projects have very important communicators in the heart of the project: their project partners! Especially if they have been part of intensive co-production stages, they have become experts on the project, and, if satisfied with the project, are very likely to be willing to engage with their institution or community about results, and also about methods, processes, and approaches they experienced during the project. Research on this subject has only started recently but first results point towards several promising ways for project partners to enhance the awareness about and consequently the impact of the project:

Access to information channels: Institutional representatives may have access to communication channels of their institution, like in-house or public newsletters and publications. Reports on the process, specific events and results may be disseminated through such channels. Community members may have access to e.g. community radio or community video projects.

Foster consultation and knowledge exchange: Institutional representatives can discuss the project in departmental or interdepartmental working groups. Such endeavours not only contribute to the project communication and help to bring broader institutional views back into the project, but also foster knowledge management within the institution. Inviting project partners, both scientists or practitioners, into other institutions or communities can further underline the importance of the issue at stake and lead to cross-sectorial dialogue.

Capacity building: Especially co-production methods and processes can foster capacity building in institutions and communities. In an ongoing research project1, TDR project partners reported that they started to employ co-production processes and methods for their own projects. A commune even changed their standard approach for spatial planning to a more participatory one, based on the good experiences within a TDR project.

Through encouraging and supporting partners, TDR projects can enable their partners and thereby have a broader impact. However, only partners who consider TDR projects they were part of as at least partially successful are likely to link back to their communities and institutions.

Author: Tobias Buser