A racially diverse group of people have their hand up during a meeting

Presenting Information for Policy Audiences

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be sharing my work journals, so you get another insight into the working life of applied social scientists! Today is typical day. I had to put together two different presentations: one about our research methods and the other one is about results from our field work.

Policy audiences prefer PowerPoint slides as a way of receiving information and results. This is counter to evidence about the best way to communicate. PowerPoints is just a tool, so you get out of it what you put in – and most people use this tool poorly. Too much text, too many slides, too many points on one slide, poor design choices and several other elements mean that audiences don’t take in the most important points from presentations. Policy audiences are peculiar in this sense; they prefer PowerPoints for reasons they may not fully understand (authority, familiarity) but they don’t realise they’re not getting the best use of this medium. So regardless of the evidence, slide decks are a big part of my working life!

I also had to get our colleagues up to speed on one of my projects, so I had to lead a “pre-meeting.” We spend an amazing amount of time getting ready for meetings: it’s literally meetings about meetings! This is important, so that everyone is clear about the aims of an important meeting with stakeholders, and so we can meet our objectives. I prefer to minimise the number of useless meetings and to send summaries over email so everyone has a copy. However, I am in a minority. Again, policy audiences really prefer the formality of meetings, even though there may be better ways to collaborate.

Another feature of our work is having to do rapid reporting that needs to be absorbed as part of our day. For example, I had to put together a succinct summary of a two-year project on education for an executive audience. The request was unexpected and it took priority.

I run communications for our team. I worked with some of our colleagues to prepare publication of our results. I followed up many minor details, such as preparing copy to be uploaded to our website, as well as significant issues, such as ensuring we had all the relevant approvals to publish.

I worked with our Director on our communications strategy. We are looking for a more sustainable solution to ensuring our future publications are accessible. Most research reports are published on PDF. This is not accessible for many disabled people with screen readers. There are ways to make PDFs accessible. Yet there are far superior ways to make accessibility more standardised. This is high on our agenda.

All of this, in a day’s work of an applied researcher. Today was less actual research, and more facilitation of research.

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