08 Jan 2021

Does your grandmother understand your projects?

European Projects Behind the Scenes (7)

Gregor Cerinšek, IRI UL

How can we accelerate the take-up of research results? A question that is on our minds on a daily basis – and I believe that it needs to be there from the very beginning, so from the project preparation and application development phase.

Furthermore, I think that there are always 3 key issues around it. The first one is that we really need to be aware of who our target groups are. Who are these people – the potential beneficiaries or users of the future results?  Who are we solving for or – even better – who are we solving with? And when we say key stakeholders, we do not refer only to the most obvious ones – the ones who will benefit from our final results as a whole (e.g., students if we are developing a new study program). We should also pay attention to the more subtle and hidden ones that still have to be uncovered; who could for instance use only parts of the results, certain development principles or methodologies, best practices or who could benefit from understanding the failures that we encountered during the research and development process. Quite often, we easily lose these people or we do not address them in a sufficient manner.

Besides identifying our target groups – and this is a continuous process that lasts until the very end of a project – the next important step is to think about proper representations of our results, developed knowledge, or project as a whole. What normally happens in research and development projects is that we produce long reports called “deliverables”. And these reports could be extremely complex, hard to understand, and also boring especially for the ones who come from different research backgrounds or domains of interest or are not researchers at all. Even our reviewers do not read everything that is in there. So, it is our responsibility as researchers to form and pack our results and their meaning using suitable representations. These representations are formed in a way to properly address our target groups and their interests. It is also important that we take into account the different levels of complexity so that our target groups are able to digest our results.

These could be animations and videos, executive summaries with thick descriptions and graphical representations, illustrations, stories or texts written in storytelling formats, manifestos, board games, and so on. However, there is always a key dilemma: how far should we go? How far not to jeopardize the scientific value of results? How far not to receive complaints and accusations that there’s “more show than substance”. How to properly transform a scientific, 100-pages long report into one graphical representation without banalizing the whole research work that we did in the past years?

And all these issues should be reflected in the so-called dissemination/exploitation/sustainability (or valorization) plan, which needs to be continuously updated during the project; so, during the evolvement of our research and development processes. And here is the crucial mistake that applicants do in their project applications – copy-pasting the dissemination and exploitation parts from other past proposals, without customizing it to the specific culture, needs, and requirements of the respective target groups.

And as an anthropologist I believe that the best way to study our target groups is simply through speaking with them, observing what they do, listening to what they say, and showing that we care. And this is how we engage them. As researchers, we have to go beyond our expert mindsets and make a shift to the more people- or citizen-centered mindset – in which we put people in the center of our attention in all steps of the research and development process. And this is extremely important also in terms of ethics and assuring a sustainable future for all of us.

Gregor Cerinšek, IRI UL researcher and project manager, reflects on the background of European projects, i.e. all practices, events and activities that are not publicly discussed, but nevertheless significantly affect the acquisition of projects, their course and long-term success (or failure). He formulates findings and recommendations on the basis of conversations with project managers, coordinators, researchers, supervisors, consultants and evaluators – with all those who are in any way involved in the phenomenon of European projects.

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