The power of blogs to share research and communicate policy lessons
Over the course of the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) programme, researchers produced over 150 publications, including working papers, briefs, COVID-19 papers, journal articles and several books. A key approach taken by WRENmedia to further the reach of these publications, in leading APRA’s Information, Communication and Engagement (ICE) team, was to support the researchers to publish weekly blogs. Here, we explore the use of APRA blogs to identify what went well, and what could have been improved to expand their impact even further.
APRA blogs, ranging from 500 to 1,000 words, were used to condense the key insights and messages from longer, more technical publications, particularly highlighting valuable findings and policy takeaways, into a shorter, more accessible and relevant format. With over 200 blogs published since the start of the APRA programme in 2016, these outputs proved highly valuable in promoting APRA publications and events. The blogs received thousands of viewings from a diverse audience and led to significant subsequent downloads of the related research outputs.
As each APRA output was finalised for publishing, WRENmedia reached out to the author(s) to request a blog to promote the research. To ensure blogs were well-written, easy to understand, and formatted consistently, ICE support was provided in producing this content and, when necessary, comments were added to request further explanation or clarification of certain details. ‘The ICE team were very persistent and supportive in getting blogs out of research teams.’ – Adebayo Aromolaran, APRA Nigeria researcher.
The benefits of blogs
During the APRA programme, blogs regularly received over 1,000 unique page views (number of individuals visiting the webpage). Overall, the 210 blogs produced by the end of February 2022 received a total of 105,000 views, representing 46 per cent of all APRA page views. In addition, visitors’ average viewing time for blogs was over four minutes, indicating that visitors read the content rather than skimmed through it, which showed that the blogs were well received and valued.
Developing blogs was an invaluable learning tool for APRA researchers. Not only did the process enable them to explore new ways to distil key messages, it also allowed them to see how sharing their work in a more concise, accessible format ensured wider dissemination and enhanced engagement of their research. Embracing blogging, and learning to ‘tell a story’, enabled the researchers to connect with the public globally – significantly widening the reach of the research outside of academic circles. This is even more crucial when research may be published in non-open access journals, and is therefore hidden behind a paywall.
Many researchers see journal articles as the pinnacle of their research outputs and convincing time-constrained team members to make their research more accessible to a wider audience can be challenging for communication teams anxious to make the outputs more digestible. Most APRA researchers were initially resistant and rather reluctant to dedicate the time to write blogs. However, by the end of the programme, the collaborative process of reviewing and editing the blogs between the ICE team and the authors was deemed by APRA researchers as ‘valuable’, ‘rigorous’, and ‘timely’, and was highlighted as a successful part of the ICE team’s work and a key output for APRA’s communication efforts. ‘The ICE team's untiring support, even in reducing the blogs to an acceptable word count without losing the essence and main message in the blog, has been phenomenal.’ – Masautso Chimombo, APRA Malawi researcher.
In supporting researchers to write blogs, the APRA teams suggested that more training might have been provided at the start of the programme. Certainly, providing blog guidelines on the style and format is essential and helps reduce the time spent by the authors and the communication teams in drafting and re-writing.
Links to journal articles, papers etc. were all provided within these succinct articles so that more information was available should readers want more in-depth information, and all blogs were promoted via APRA’s social media channels. Where the theme was particularly relevant or of interest to a wider audience, paid social media campaigns helped to further boost engagement.
For more information on the impact of blogs, see the full ICE Case Study here: https://bit.ly/3y7Uq69