Dissemination – getting research used

What was the challenge?

Effective dissemination is simply about getting the findings of your research to the people who can make use of them, to maximise the benefit of the research without delay. We want to help patients and healthcare professionals to make better informed health decisions by having access to the results of relevant research.

Previous research has shown that researchers are sometimes unclear on how to approach dissemination, and research outputs are not always in a format easily used by end-users, especially commissioners.

The NIHR recognised this challenge and the need to support researchers to more effectively disseminate their research findings to evidence users and in turn get findings adopted in the NHS and wider healthcare system. Making this happen also highlighted the need to work with researchers on enhancing their engagement with the dissemination process and producing outputs that are ‘fit for purpose’ for evidence users.


What did we do and who did we engage with?

The project team tackled the challenge set by Professor Chris Whitty, that “research is of no use unless it gets to the people who need to use it”. The two areas of focus were: 

  • developing information and guidance for researchers to disseminate their research using a user centric approach where research output/evidence materials are ‘fit for purpose’ and communicated via channels/media used by evidence users, in order to get their research findings adopted in the NHS and wider healthcare
  • considering funding of activities to disseminate results at appropriate point(s) in a study and the mechanisms to do so, via an Enhanced Dissemination Fund or through identifying available underspend.

The first output was an electronic guidance document aimed primarily at NIHR applicants, to help with the development of effective dissemination plans for their research, and at NIHR Board members to support them in providing useful feedback on these plans. The resource provides advice, resources and case studies that share good practice and practical tips on effective engagement with evidence users and dissemination of NIHR funded research. There was widespread stakeholder consultation on and refinement of the guidance document from NIHR colleagues and through piloting with applicants and Board members.

A key part of the guidance is a series of exemplar case studies of dissemination produced in conjunction with Chief Investigators. The tools on offer include a template dissemination plan for researchers to use, and advice on using a range of different media such as press releases, infographics, blogs, podcasts and social media to broaden the reach to evidence users.

To ensure the new guidance was meeting its ambition, applicants who took part in the pilot were asked for their views on how this resource supported their dissemination planning as they prepared to submit their full applications. Programme funding boards were also consulted on whether there was an improvement in the quality of dissemination plans submitted to the NIHR.

The feedback suggested that the guidance was successful: 100% of the stakeholders surveyed told us it was useful, and the case-studies and dissemination plan template were welcomed in particular. Significantly, 45% of stakeholders reported that the guidance had changed their knowledge of NIHR expectations for dissemination i.e. they had learnt that NIHR supports active dissemination.  Minor improvements were helpfully provided by some, and he team has used these comments to make further enhancements to the guidance.

In tandem, the project team established a pilot to explore the options of an Enhanced Dissemination Fund and whether this is an effective approach. The aim was to trial the funding of new and innovative ways to improve the sharing of research evidence with evidence users, ultimately to improve the uptake of findings into practice. The Programme Directors for the NIHR Health Technology Assessment and Health Services and Delivery Research programmes were involved in selecting projects and reviewing proposals to test this approach to enhanced dissemination. Alongside this, the team explored how underspend could be identified during standard study monitoring, to use for dissemination where appropriate.


What did we achieve - in summary 

o   Dissemination Guidance – this has been published to the NIHR web site following testing with researchers and will continue to be developed, improved and monitored for effectiveness with all funding programmes recommending its use to applicants and active researchers.

o   Dissemination Fund pilot – this will continue to be monitored and developed so that high impact studies can be supported in their dissemination from existing programme budgets.

o   Further profile raising of the importance of active dissemination and the support available will be progressed, including through the NIHR’s Adding Value in Research framework.

Read about other areas of the Push the Pace project