Bridging the gap between research and implementation

The end goal of transportation research, broadly speaking, is to see the results implemented — that is, to transfer the knowledge generated through research to those who can put it to good use. Research Services and the Center for Transportation Studies use a variety of tools to help disseminate research results: our respective websites, email lists, social media, newsletters and this blog, to name a few. But what do we know about how our audiences actually interact with these various channels of communication?

At the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting earlier this year, researchers from Nebraska presented the findings of a very interesting survey on how engineers and other transportation practitioners prefer to learn about research results. Their presentation, entitled “What Engineers Want: Identifying Transportation Professionals as an Audience for Research,” is available via Slideshare. (Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed it.)

Some key takeaways from the survey:

  • Practitioners overwhelmingly prefer one- or two-page technical briefs to other types of research communication products. (Other popular formats include presentations, video highlights and webinars.)
  • By a wide margin, practitioners use search engines like Google or Bing to seek research results (compared to other options like contacting a colleague or university faculty).
  • Practitioners are mostly interested in information on how to implement findings, as well as cost-benefit analyses of implementation.

The survey results present what I think is a fairly realistic and nuanced picture of the audience for transportation research; they’re also consistent with our (Research Services) own internal research on the issue. The bottom line is that research results need to be condensed into usable bits of information and made easily accessible in a variety of formats. People want information they can use, without having to dig for it. More importantly, they want it in whatever their preferred format is, whether it be print, email, Web, RSS, social media or in-person presentations.

Interestingly, Research Services already produces the kind of two-page technical briefs described in the survey. We call them “technical summaries,” and they are among our most popular products. We generally produce a technical summary for each research project we manage, and post them on our website alongside the full research report. Reading a two-page summary, written in layman’s terms, is certainly easier than poring over research reports that oftentimes number in the hundreds of pages, so it’s not surprising that even those with a strong engineering background prefer the format.

As a side note, last Friday we published a batch of 10 new technical summaries — along with two new transportation research syntheses, which are a type of literature review. Topics range from pedestrian and bicycle safety in roundabout crossings to the effect of intelligent lane control systems on driver behavior. You can check the full list on the Research Services main page.

Now it’s your turn: What forms of communication do you think are most effective at reaching transportation practitioners? Which ones do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

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