Pathways are an opportunity to develop your transferable skills
“Professional membership groups are a useful way of understanding what stakeholders consider important and find interesting in your research. Getting these issues clear is important. Badly presented or non-relevant messages risk wasting stakeholders’ time and making effective communication even harder.”
Dr Stephen Cavers, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
“We rarely come into direct contact with our stakeholders,” says Dr Stephen Cavers, “so understanding the relevance of our research for them is a challenge. We have to make an effort to ensure that we are delivering a message that is useful and in the appropriate language.”
Dr Cavers is a senior scientist at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and principal investigator on the Genomics of Adaptation in Pines (GAP), a three-year £350,000 project to study the process of evolution in pine trees native to the UK (Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris). Understanding how this species has adapted to survive in different environments will help us to understand how trees may change in the future and help commercial growers to produce stronger more resilient varieties of trees.
The pathways to impact for this grant attempts to address this lack of experience in communicating with the research user. An integral part of the pathways to impact includes a skills development plan to improve the communication skills of the project researchers via training and proactively identifying and creating opportunities to interact with end users. Amongst other things, Dr Cavers and his team will take advantage of the communication and media training session offered by CEH and by the research councils. He says:
“We have had little experience communicating via the media or directly with research users and saw an opportunity to gain this experience during the course of the project. As part of our pathways we all have specific objectives that include writing press releases and working with the CEH press office to get coverage, communicating our research to public and converting research into policy.”
Dr Cavers explains that the results the project will deliver may require several more stages of development to be ready for field applications. Project results may be immediately useful for other researchers but perhaps less so for people on the ground who are planting trees. Therefore, Dr Cavers intends to focus first on building networks through meetings with conservation, land management, and commercial bodies that represent the research users. He already had established contacts with Forest Research, the Forestry Commission’s research arm, which communicates with a wide national network of tree planters and is also working on establishing relationships with other organisations interested in UK forests. He hopes that targeting intermediary groups representing, for example, commercial tree growers, will help to get the messages right for stakeholders in the field.
Try to see Pathways to impact as an opportunity to develop your communication skills and confidence. We included in our pathways to impact items such as media training courses and attending public events.
“Professional membership groups are a useful way of understanding what stakeholders consider important and find interesting in your research,” says Dr Cavers. “Getting these issues clear is important. Badly presented or non-relevant messages risk wasting stakeholders’ time and making effective communication even harder.”
Dr Cavers believes that thinking about pathways to impact before embarking on research is a helpful process in forcing researchers to take a step back and identify where they are currently not having an impact but would like to. He concludes:
“The pathways are an important part of the grant process, but also an opportunity for researchers themselves to expand their skills. I understand that people don’t like to push themselves out of their comfort zone but there is plenty of support out there from institutions and from the funders.”
NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Dr Caver’s webpage