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Blogging: An essential research engagement and dissemination tool?

I’ve just written a guest post for the LSE Social Care Evidence in Practice blog on how blogging can help to engage practitioners in social work research and disseminate findings to them. If you’re interested in how research can impact  upon social care practice I’d recommend checking out their blog. However, I thought I would share my post here …

Let’s start first with the greatest limitation – blogging is a minority activity. Many social workers do not have the time or take the time to read blog posts, and those who do mostly do so in their own time, making it easy as a blogger to feel as though you are talking to yourself. Those who do engage with your posts are those who are social media savvy, and mainly fellow bloggers. The biggest consequence of this is the scope of your reach is restricted, and a frustrating fact is that you most likely will not reach a wide section of the audience with your post, thus limiting the potential impact of your research if this was your sole impact strategy.

But it is better than doing nothing…

…and you will reach some people. Traditional academic dissemination is not an activity aimed at practitioners. In fact the presentation of research in academic journals is a massive turn off for many social workers, who do not have the time to read through a 20 page journal article to take away a few key messages that may or may not be relevant to their individual practice. A blog overcomes this barrier, bridging the gap between research and practice by extrapolating practice relevant evidence and publishing it in a medium accessible to the masses.

For the Connecting People Study, we chose to use a blog format for the project website, as we felt it encouraged more widespread engagement, from those tracking the study to those involved in it. The problem with static websites is that they can be very dull. They require constant updating and maintenance to keep them appealing, whereas a blog allows you to work with a timeline and gives people a real insight into the progress of a project.

Having the project website as a blog has created a flexible format of engagement, which is more informal thus allowing those who previously may not have done so to feel confident engaging with the research through posts. We recently provided training to 16 health and social care agencies involved with the project. Our blog allows them to not only see how the study is progressing, but also the learning experiences of other agencies in the field, which has the potential to significantly influence collaborative learning and development in the sector.

The project is on-going until March 2014, but our blog allows the audience to engage with as little or as much of the project as they would like and select the parts that contain messages relevant to their work. It also facilitates participant recruitment, as practitioners are reached by small trickles of information that they find relevant to their work. Of course for some practitioners participating in research is the last thing on their mind and subscriptions may go little in the way of showing impact, but the small trickle of information may reach some and thus lead to better evidence informed practice.

Blogging as a sole dissemination strategy is likely to be ineffective, but researchers should consider using it as an engagement and dissemination tool alongside more traditional methods such as journal articles and conferences. Whether it informs practice relies heavily on practitioners having the time to read the blog, but it is important to remember that they are more likely to read a blog post that pulls together key findings and arguments, than an academic paper. As a researcher you can communicate your latest work, make it available (depending on publishing agreement) and thus create an instant knowledge portal.

Researchers can influence how their research makes an impact. The difference between simply allowing it to sit in an academic journal and using a blog to pull together points for practice is that you can create a channel to reach a new audience who can engage with it. Blogging allows you to blend practice, research and education together in a fluid manner and thus help broaden your reach to more people.

You can never predict what will happen with a blog, whether it will be read by one person or hundreds. It can be unpredictable, throwing up comments, queries and engagement levels that you may not have intended and certainly did not expect. It also exposes you to a world of contacts, with endless people you have the potential to reach. This is being helped along by communities of interest, influenced heavily by tools such as Twitter, which can become a gateway between your blog and the people you wish to influence.

I started with blogging’s greatest limitation; it seems apt to end with its greatest achievement. Blogging your research creates the opportunity for flexible engagement with networks of interested people from practice, research, education and users of services. These networks have the potential to throw up insights that may be invaluable in the creation of effective social work practice and efficient systems of social care and support.

6 thoughts on “Blogging: An essential research engagement and dissemination tool?

  1. elaine keep says:

    I think the issue is more complicated than you suggest. There is not just the issue of time, but in my opinion blogging rarely is able to communicate complicated issues well. There are people like me, who can only read long items on paper as my eyes will not stand long sessions looking at a screen. There is also an issue(I think) that the fast paced delivery of much info on the internet is not conducive to careful thought ( trolling being an extreme example) remember the medium is the message? If social workers can not be bothered to read difficult articles, maybe their workplace and/or supervisor is not promoting reflective practice (remember that too?). There is also the problem of inaccurate information being disseminated, just think of Wikipedia!

  2. And you might also have said that it’s massively quicker than publishing in hard copy. Hard copy is important; but there’s nothing more infuriating in a field like mine (law & religion) than to see your carefully-researched article completely wrecked by an unexpected judgment just after the article has been published. All those wise comments on the initial judgment in Lautsi (the Italian crucifix case) were rendered pretty well pointless when the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR reversed the earlier decision.

  3. Laura Lewis says:

    Dear Martin,

    I enjoyed your blog post! Furthering engagement… facilitating dissemination…these are worthy goals!

    As the Director of Field Education for the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, I’m particularly interested in how students can incorporate technology in to their field work. I hadn’t considered the role blogs can play in research.

    Your post was perfectly timed as we have two MSW students preparing to launch blogs in early January related to overseas field work in South Korea, in one case, and Thailand in the other. They will not be solely research focused, however.

    I hope your article will inspire more social workers to incorporate new technologies in to their work!

    (If you like, check out kwitmerssw.wordpress.com after Jan 8th- afraid I don’t have yet the other blog address.)

    Laura

  4. As my co-blogger Frank Cranmer states, the immediacy of blogging is attractive in a niche area such as ours – law and religion – where several months may elapse between writing an article on what is currently a “hot topic”, and its final publication. This is also true for an area such as environmental law, where weeks may elapse between submitting copy for my column and its appearance in hard copy. When a blogger presses “publish”, the post is available almost instantly.
    With regard to blogging being a minority activity, from a blogger’s point of view, one’s readership is likely to be significantly greater than an equivalent hard copy publication.

  5. Neil Sanyal says:

    I can relate to what one reply said about needing to have time to read hard copy as there isn’t enough time to absorb it all online. Trouble is I don’t have that time!!! So Martin’s blogs have been very helpful for me. When the study about AMHP practitioners experiences was put out in Martin’s blog it was instantly easy to capture the main points. I forwarded it to all the AMHPs in my county – Hampshire – who were relieved to realise it wasn’t just them in stress and disarray!! However, if the study had only been published in a social work journal I doubt if those colleagues of mine (or me for that matter!!) would have read it or even had access to it.
    Having said all that I do find online social networking not easy to my work as there are a lot of pitfalls to overcome. On balance I am glad people like MArtin and Shirley Ayres try to get blogs and online articles out there to us all. But whether people like me will have the time, confidence or enthusiasm to initiate our own blogs…not sure about that!!

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