Designing for dissemination

I have been invited to speak with a
Community-Based Research and Evaluation (CBRE) class
of graduate students next week
about one of my favourite things: research methods!

I will recommend they consider qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods when designing a CBRE study – as the method they choose will ultimately depend on their research question(s). Specifically, I will be highlighting the compatibility of mixed methods research and CBRE because together they are likely to increase collaborative opportunities with community members. (For more thoughts on Community, see my related blog post here).

As you may have noticed (from previous posts), I enjoy sharing research results (disseminating) by presenting at conferences…and not just because of all the travelling 🙂

I also enjoy sharing results through articles:

And through books – stay tuned for the book I posted about earlier this year (see Amazon) – and also….look what I just ordered!!!

Dissemination is considered
the targeted distribution of information
to a specific audience
with the intent to spread knowledge
and the associated evidence-based interventions or recommendations.
[1]

I prefer to think of this targeted distribution as reciprocal since feedback from the audience adds to my knowledge too! I also recognize the value of disseminating during a study – as opposed to waiting until the end of a study. When I started to learn about CBRE, I became aware of other phrases used to describe dissemination – each with a slightly different interpretation:

Deliverables
Knowledge sharing
Knowledge transfer
Knowledge translation
Knowledge mobilization
Any others?

I tend to use the term dissemination, while recognizing the values inherent in other approaches (for example, knowledge translation seems to suit community-based research while knowledge mobilization often appears in health research).

Mixed Methods Research (MMR) is defined as
“an intellectual and practical synthesis based on
qualitative and quantitative research;
it is the third methodological or research paradigm
-along with qualitative and quantitative research.” [2]

MMR is sometimes known as:

Mixed Model
Mixed Research
Mixed Methodology
Multi-Method Research
Any others?

While differences exist between these labels (e.g., methods = specific strategies for implementing research; methodology = a broad approach to answering research questions),[3] I tend to use the label MMR.

As I prepare for next week’s discussion, I thought I would post* the following piece about MMR for those interested and any fellow graduate students out there. *The following is an adapted version of a a post I wrote for a course-specific discussion thread:

Disseminating research – regardless of the methods used –
is about telling a good story.
[4]
When designing a CBRE study using MMR it is good to keep the end in mind. During my doctoral studies so far, I have learned about the key elements of a mixed methods study and that, when appropriately combined, can result in a good story. The MMR practitioner’s ability to produce a structured story is also dependent on a systematic and rigorous research process. In order to share useful information, the MMR story has to be consistent, creative, easy-to-understand, and make some connection to the audience. A consistent point of view (first, second, or third person) that fits your MMR study design and suits your audience can also help ensure you disseminate a coherent story. This may include stating your philosophical assumptions or worldview.

  • Who are your main characters, who is your audience…and how will your story end?

Disseminating MMR is about adapting to audiences – which is particularly key for CBRE practitioners. In order to consider adapting your presentation of MMR findings to a particular audience, you need to know your audience (i.e., community members). Plans for dissemination also depend on the goal you had for mixing – which connects to your choice of design. For example, if my goal were to have a social, institutional and/or organizational impact, I would plan to share my results with key decision-makers… but how?

Throughout this posting, I will pose a number of questions to consider given the range of audiences researchers may encounter as a MMR practitioner, the associated challenges with disseminating MMR, and possible solutions by adapting disseminating strategies to meet the needs of varied audiences. Specifically, I will highlight the top five challenges MMR practitioners need to consider when sharing research results: a) varied audience, b) language use, c) knowledge of preferred approach, d) formatting and, e) publishing outlets.[5]

Challenges

Answering the question, “Who will be your audience?” is one of many challenges; given the likelihood that you will share your MMR results will multiple audiences. The figure below presents a range of audiences and possible avenues for graduate students and fellow researchers to consider when disseminating MMR results.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 11.07.20 PM

Do you think this diagram is specific to MMR? Can you think of additional venues?

Making connections between the goals of CBRE, the goals of your MMR study, and the goals of dissemination can influence the audience(s) you target and how you and your community partners choose to share and use the results. Knowing your audience is key to planning for dissemination – just like it is important for to keep students in mind when creating lesson plans. Research participants may want to know if they contributed in a meaningful way while researchers encountering your work through academic journals will be concerned with whether they can trust your inferences and conclusions. Likewise, the purpose of disseminating the results of a MMR study to a dissertation committee (i.e., to fulfill graduation requirements) will be different from your purpose for sharing results with community program stakeholders (i.e., to show utility of a program). Even when you have an audience in mind (e.g., community members), recognizing the variability within a specific audience can be challenging. The challenge lies in deciding on the appropriate balance or ratio of practice-oriented to methods-oriented content while still remaining accessible to a diverse audience.[6]

Mixed methods researchers consider language use a challenge given the within-method (i.e., qualitative, quantitative) languages and the inconsistent use of MMR terms.[7] Given the lack of a common MMR vocabulary, there is a risk of primarily using quantitative terms (or qualitative terms) when disseminating a MMR study even if the specific design dictates equal recognition of quantitative and qualitative methods. Language use can be particularly challenging for a MMR practitioner who has an expertise in one approach (i.e., quantitative) but an inadequate content knowledge of the other approach (i.e., qualitative). When engaged in CBRE, clear communication may often mean avoiding methodological jargon while ensuring a common and contextually appropriate vocabulary is used throughout the study.

MMR practitioners also need to develop new ways of thinking about the presentation of research results since – like CBRE – the methods and results do not neatly fit a conventional research format.[8] That said, words like traditional or conventional often elicit responses aimed at reducing the dichotomous treatments of methodological choices. For some, a single-method study may be considered traditional and publishing a manuscript in an academic peer-reviewed journal as the conventional format for disseminating results.

  • How is disseminating a mixed methods study different from a single-method study?
  • Do you think there is a conventional format for disseminating MMR or is “the” conventional format something attributed to all research regardless of the methods used?
  • Do you think a CBRE study that uses a mixed methods approach allows for more “unconventional” methods of dissemination or does the use of mixed methods come with restrictive dissemination choices?

The fifth challenge relates to finding MMR publishing outlets.[9] Recent advances in the field of MMR have paved the way for journals that specifically publish MMR studies and theoretical contributions (e.g., Journal of Mixed Methods Research), however the challenge with publishing in field-specific journals can relate to reviewer expertise (or lack of MMR expertise) and practical concerns surrounding context and adequate dissemination of mixed approaches.

  • Can you think of additional audience-related challenges you may face when disseminating MMR results – specific to CBRE?

Solutions

Developing a dissemination (i.e., knowledge sharing) plan while in the MMR design planning stages of a CBRE study can help ensure the philosophical and methodological decisions you make provide the structure that will accommodate the needs of your intended audience(s). Before your study begins, have an image in mind as to what the final report/product(s) (i.e., ‘deliverables’) will look like and who will be your target audience. For example, mixed methods researchers recommend the use of quantitative-dominant designs (e.g., embedded, explanatory, or multiphase) when publishing is the primary method of dissemination.[10] While I appreciate the recommendation, I do not agree with the suggestion that research designs, which build on – or give priority to – the quantitative tradition, are more likely to impact government policy-makers or chances for publications.

  • What do you think? Will your intended audience influence your choice of research design or do you think you will be able to adapt your findings to suit a range of audiences?

Key MMR practitioners have emphasized how contextualization impacts language use (i.e., priority given to quantitative or qualitative terms depending on design and target audience).[11] For example, a qualitative health science research study (which recognizes contextual features and intervention influences within a practice orientation) may encourage MMR practitioners to translate or adapt findings using an implementation framework.[12] Based on my CBRE experiences, I personally see the value in contextualizing and translating findings for the purpose of practical applications and policy implications.

MMR practitioners have offered a framework as an overall solution to the challenges inherent in disseminating MMR.[13] This framework is akin to key issues at each stage of the research process (e.g., the planning stage involves rationale for mixing, creating mixed research questions, and choosing a mixed research design). Although the framework provides guidelines for disseminating results through report writing, working through the stages can encourage a rigorous research process – one that can optimize results and increase the opportunities for adapting findings and sharing knowledge with varied audiences.

  • Can you envision engaging your CBRE audience in the dissemination plans and process?
  • Do you view MMR dissemination (i.e., knowledge sharing) as the final stage of a CBRE study or as an iterative process throughout?

Visuals in the research process are important and I argue even more so when disseminating MMR. Regardless of the audience, MMR practitioners can benefit from following Edward Tufte’s[14] model of graphical excellence by revealing complex ideas with clarity, precision, and efficiency. For a journal article, report, or presentation the complexity of a MMR study needs to be communicated through a well-designed structure.[15] This can be accomplished through visual diagrams, but also through clear purpose statements and clear headings that separate the quantitative and qualitative sections of data collection and data analysis.[16]

Conclusion

Once you have generated inferences and conclusions during a CBRE project,  those inferences need to be made accessible to an audience, and so I ask: Do you prefer tables or tableaux?[17] Answering this question will depend on your audience, but also on your style (that you have developed or want to develop), your creativity, and your field of research. What follows is a sample of active and passive dissemination strategies (like using a table or a tableaux) that may (or may not) suit your audience(s), your style and creativity, and your field.

-Peer-reviewed journal article (with tables and figures)
-Research report, magazine article or newsletter
-Practice-oriented guidelines or recommendations
-Online interactive formats (e.g., blog, website)
-Video series (e.g., podcast)
-Presentation (e.g., poem, poster, pecha kucha[18])
-Interview format (video or in-print)
-Performance (e.g., song, dance, drama or tableaux)
-Visual arts (e.g., quilt, photographs)

  • Are certain strategies better suited for specific audiences?
  • Are certain strategies better suited for MMR?
  • Given your style and field of research, which strategies do you prefer for a CBRE study?

By choosing a MMR design for your CBRE study and keeping the end in mind, your dissemination strategies may help you answer the “So what?” and assist you and your community audience towards the “Now what?

Update: Click here to view my presentation that I used (in October) when talking to the Community-Based Research and Evaluation (CBRE) class of graduate students. Feedback welcome! 

References


[1] Creswell, J. W. & Wisdom, J. P. (May 3, 2012). Overview of mixed methods research in dissemination and implementation [Presentation slides]. Presentation in National Institutes of Health (NIH) workshop: Using mixed methods to optimize dissemination and implementation of health interventions. Bethesda, MD: Natcher Conference Centre (NIH Campus). http://obssr.od.nih.gov/scientific_areas/methodology/mixed_methods_workshop2012/documents/815%20Overview%20of%20MM%20in%20Dissemination_Implementation_Creswell%20and%20Wisdom.pdf

[2] Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner (2007) as cited in Mixed data analysis techniques: A comprehensive step-by-step approach [AERA Pre-Conference Workshop Manual] by A. J. Onwuegbuzie & K. M. T. Collins (April 2013) at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference, San Francisco: CA.

[3] Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2012). Introduction: putting the MIXED back into quantitative and qualitative research in educational research and beyond: moving toward the radical middle. International Journal Of Multiple Research Approaches, 6(3), 192-219.

[4] Creswell, J., & Plano-Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[5] Leech, N. L., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Combs, J. P. (2011). Writing publishable mixed research articles: Guidelines for emerging scholars in the health sciences and beyond. International Journal of Mixed Research Approaches, 5, 7-24.

[6] Leech, Onwuegbuzie, & Combs (2011)

[7] Leech, Onwuegbuzie, & Combs (2011)

[8] Cameron, R. (2011). Mixed methods research: The five Ps framework. Journal of Business Research Methods, 9(2), 96-108.

[9] Leech, Onwuegbuzie, & Combs (2011)

[10] Creswell & Wisdom (2012)

[11] Leech, N. L., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2010). Guidelines for conducting and reporting mixed research in the field of counseling and beyond. Journal of Counseling and Development, 88, 61-69.

[12] Sandelowski, M. & Leeman, J. (2012). Writing usable qualitative health research findings. Qualitative Health Research, 22, 1404-1413. http://qhr.sagepub.com/content/22/10/1404

[13] Leech & Onwuegbuzie (2010)

[14] Tufte, E. (2001). The visual display of quantitative information (2nd ed.). Chesire, CT: Graphics Press. * Also visit his website: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp

[15] Creswell & Plano-Clark (2011)

[16] Creswell & Plano-Clark (2011)

[17] Sandelowski, M. (2003). Tables or tableaux? The challenges of writing and reading mixed methods studies (pp. 321-350). In A. Tashakkori and C. Teddlie, Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioural Research. London, UK: Sage.

2 responses

  1. Hi There – Great post! I agree that it is vital to tell a good story. I work with Dedoose (www.dedoose.com), an online mixed methods tool for academic researchers. If you ever want to guest blog for our blog (blog.dedoose.com) we would love it! We are going to share your blog with our user community today to help you spread the world and we will be following your blog. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Thank you Katie-Coral for your comment, guest blog invite, and for sharing my blog with your user community! I am still an NVivo user for qualitative analyses but did try the trial version of Dedoose earlier this year. I plan on spending time learning the paid version in the new year – I think it may turn out to be helpful for some (…all?) of my dissertation analyses!

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