Here, the story—what the research found and why it matters—is centered. The research report is still important, but it is supporting evidence for a bigger story your research is telling. The story covers not just what happened (the factual occurrences) but the significance, the connection to a broader context, and the journey forward.
The way this then translates into communications may feel subtle, but the intention is different. Rather than seeking to draw your audience to explore the report (“Read more here”) you are seeking to take your report findings to your audience through a range of formats and platforms.
You then have the option to tell your story over time, to varying levels of depth and detail and to different audiences, rather than launching with a splash on one day and then moving on. Getting to the story of your research requires you to distil the meaning and significance of the work, meaning your research communications will have more salience and, hopefully, more impact.
Learn more about centering the story in your think tank communications here.
Connect with the human
To tell an effective story, we have to connect with the human elements of our work. That’s because stories are inherently human—they are still humanity’s greatest vessels for sharing knowledge and generating collective wisdom.
We often forget this in research and policy development. We see the value of think tanks’ work as being impartial, rational, and evidence driven. That has its value to a point. But it has created a general culture around research and evidence development that is divorced from the literal purpose of policy. Which is: to make life better for people.
At Cast From Clay, we think that if we remain in touch with the human purpose of our work, everyone benefits. That means connecting with the humanity of the people impacted by the policies you’re discussing: including their stories, testimony, and case studies.
But it also means including the humanity of you, the people doing the research. Connecting in with why this research matters to you, why you’re excited by it or motivated by it, which eureka moments happened for you or where you feel stuck. These are all valuable contact points for your audience to help relay the significance of your research.
Take the moment the CERN scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. When I watch this video, I have no idea what the figures mean on the board, or what the man announcing it is saying. The expert science is beyond my comprehension. But the emotion in the room is palpable, such that I still tear up when I watch it. The smiles, the rapturous applause, Peter Higgs in the crowd wiping his tears. This, I can understand. And it tells me: this is important, this matters. Because—and this is something we often forget in research communications—emotion is information.
As my colleague Natallia wrote recently: “... policy experts and researchers often try to create a sterile environment of data to inform those in power. But what if we were to leave the fingermarks of those who collected this data and those whom it represents? Could it help these meanings to find their way into our everyday meaning-making?”
If you can step away from the detail of your work and the deadline for your report and ask yourself: “Why does this matter to the people it concerns?” and “Why does this matter to me?”—that’s where you find your story. And when think tanks can tell a clear story about the work they do, we can begin to shape the evidence-based and human-centered policies we all deserve.
Find out more about how to build storytelling into your work here.