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This is a photo of a handwritten list on yellow paper. The title is Grant To Do. There are seven items on the list. The first three are checked off: specific aims, study design, human subjects. The next item, dissemination plan, is unchecked and circled. The final three items are unchecked: biosketches, budget, and letters of commitment.

Plan for Communicating Findings from Research Grants
(Even If the Funder Doesn’t Ask You To)

Ahhh, here we are: January 2022.

We’re hauling away the last of the gift packaging and dead conifer. Our pants are a little bit tighter, our focus is a little bit looser. Peanut butter trees have been cleared out to make way for peanut butter hearts.

And, if you’re a US-based health researcher, you may be in the midst of the final-month push for a National Institutes of Health research grant application.

Here at Data Soapbox, we were surprised to learn that very few NIH funding announcements explicitly discuss the need to communicate research results. For example, of the 15,197 opportunities available on the day I searched (Jan 7, 2022), only 91 (just over half a percent) included the term “dissemination plan.”

Speaking from personal experience, when research communication is missing from, or not prominent in, a funding announcement, it’s really easy to get buried in tasks like honing research aims, identifying a source of study participants, and developing measurement instruments and protocols. And, don’t get me wrong; those components are critical, and you’re not going to win a grant without them.

However, if your research results aren’t clearly communicated to the people who can use them (think physicians, patients, counselors, teachers, parents, policy makers), you’ve essentially wasted all of the time, money, and panic attacks that went into your research.

Don’t just take our word for it. Despite the general lack of explicit dissemination requirements in NIH funding announcements, this is a major component of the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) that grantees are required to submit each year. NIH grantees must discuss how the results of their research were disseminated to communities of interest, and then list their specific research products, including publications, presentations, websites, and videos.*

The best way to ensure that you have exciting things to discuss in your RPPR is to plan for dissemination from the very beginning, as part of the research grant proposal process. This early planning helps to ensure that you have:

  • Identified any gaps in staff availability and communication skills, and identified partners to fill those gaps;
  • Budgeted for the staff, tools, and logistics (e.g., plane tickets, conference registration fees) required to achieve your communication goals;
  • Aligned communication timelines with timelines for data collection, processing, and analysis; and
  • Prevented communication from getting lost in the bustle of launching a newly funded study.

Need help developing or executing a communication plan for your proposed or funded research study? Data Soapbox can help! Contact us.

*NIH also asks grantees to report on the training and professional development opportunities their project provided. Did we mention that Data Soapbox loves to train and mentor students and professionals on research communication? :)

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