Jana Jane Hexter
Dissemination Does NOT Have to be Dull
It is tempting to give the dissemination section of a proposal short shrift for a couple of reasons. First, it is often toward the end of a proposal and space may be precious. Second, it can be tricky to visualize disseminating products, processes and knowledge that are not yet developed. As a consequence, many dissemination plans simply state that the grantees will write a journal article, present at a conference and put information on their web site.
There is room for a little more creativity.
The NSF User Friendly Guide to Dissemination defines dissemination as “the process of communicating information to specific audiences for the purpose of extending knowledge and, in some cases, with a view to modifying policies and practices.”
The key word in this sentence is communicating. Truly effective communication is not simply the one-sided dispersal of information but rather an interactive engagement that results in each side truly understanding one another. The disseminator cannot simply create a website and expect people to adapt their practices. The disseminator must repeatedly present materials in a meaningful way and provide plenty of opportunity for interaction with potential adapters. Adapters can then relate the information to their own experience and decide for themselves whether it is relevant and meaningful for their work.
A dissemination plan must show the reviewer how you will incorporate active communication into your dissemination efforts. As with all good planning efforts, getting down to the basic who, what, where, when and how will help you to clarify your thinking.
Question 1: What is the goal of your dissemination?
This is an important question. You need to clearly define what you want to achieve at the earliest stages so that you can create a dissemination plan designed to achieve your goals. Question whether you want to simply spread information about the project or whether you want your audience to go as far as adopting your model. You may decide that you have different goals for different groups. For example, you might want doctors in rural hospitals to adopt your model and patients with heart disease in rural hospitals to simply be aware of your program.
Question 2: Who are your target audiences?
Once you know what level of change you want to accomplish, define which constituencies you need to reach to achieve your goals. Force yourself to broaden your horizons and think outside of your immediate communities of interest. Be realistic since you may not be able to reach an entire group. For example, you may not be able to reach all nurses in the United States but you could realistically contact all nurses in cardiac units in hospitals that serve rural areas, or women over age 50 in rural areas who have a history of heart disease, or senior administrators in rural hospitals etc. Prioritize your list into primary and secondary audiences. Ely and Huberman also suggest further segmenting your target audiences so that you identify individuals or subgroups to which you should pay special attention. These might include:
- Innovators: those with a special interest or motivation;
- Key People: gatekeepers, opinion leaders;
- Potential Adopters: majority of potential audience;
- Everyone Else: all the people who might be affected by your project.
Segmenting your audience in this way will help you to closely define your audience. The better you define your audience the more effective you will be in your dissemination strategies.
Individuals in your target audience
If your goal is to encourage adoption of your model you will need to carefully tailor your message to your audience. Bonnie L. Shapiro, in her 1994 article, “What Children Bring to Light: A Constructivist Perspective on Children’s Learning In Science,” points out that “in order to take on a new viewpoint, one must decide to let go of an old one. There must be a reason to decide to make the shift in thinking.”
Clearly, building new viewpoints takes time. Jeffrey Froyd, in his 2001 paper, “Developing a Dissemination Plan,” developed a six-stage change readiness model for assessing individuals based on their readiness to change. Froyd suggests that individuals do not simply jump from being completely unaware of an issue or program to changing their practices but rather move in incremental steps. Froyd looked at several “readiness to change” models and notes that they share three similarities, namely:
- People in the initial stages of change are completely unaware of the existing opportunity or need for change;
- When people are first contemplating change they are not likely to invest much time in learning about new approaches;
- When a person moves into the later stages, she is more willing to invest time and resources.
Let’s look at Froyd’s six stages.
Pre-awareness: A potential adopter is unaware of your model and may be unaware of their need for the model that you have developed. At this stage, a person is willing to invest a few minutes to answer brief questions about the nature and scope of your program. Repeated exposure is necessary to bring a person to the next stage.
Awareness: A person is aware of the program and will read short pieces of information about the program.
Interest: A person is interested in learning more about a model and will invest an hour or so in reading materials if they are sent directly to him or her.
Search: A person will actively seek out more information about your program and invest time in determining whether your organization is credible and a model of high quality.
Decision: A person assesses the information that they have gathered and makes a decision about whether to adopt the model. I would add that this decision may be not be finite but rather a person could decide to partially implement or test the model for a trial period.
Action: Aperson has made the decision to adopt and is now willing to invest time and resources into learning about the model so that it can be implemented with full fidelity.
Froyd suggests tailoring your products to the amount of time that a person will invest in learning about your model based on their place on the change continuum. We will look at this again in Question 4.
Question 3: What information do you want to share?
While it is difficult to anticipate your final content when writing a proposal, you can make an estimate in general terms. Your content is the core of your dissemination plan. You might want to:
- Provide research results;
- Interpret your results for your audience;
- Provide a curriculum or other product;
- Share a process or program model; and
- Suggest action based on your results.
It is important to ensure that all the materials that you create are reviewed for quality and timeliness. Again, tailor your content to your audience. Only create materials that take into consideration their:
- Reading level;
- Language preference;
- Cultural background;
- Background knowledge.
The National Center for Dissemination of Disability Research (“NCDDR”) stresses the importance of knowing your audience. In 2001 it suggested conducting a needs assessment or putting together a focus group of your target audience so that you can understand what they want to know. This will help you to target your message and also ensure that the materials are relevant to your audience. You will also want to include information that your audience will find helpful but does not know it needs.
Question 4: How will you share information?
There are many ways to package and transmit your information. Options include:
- postings on listserves;
- flyers/one page summary;
- journal article;
- online courses;
- testimony at congressional hearings;
- conference exhibit or presentation;
- face-to-face meeting with individuals.
These options are listed in order of time investment needed to access the information. Froyd recommends tailoring your outreach based on your audience’s place on the change continuum. For example, someone who is aware of your program will probably scan a newsletter or flyer but not take the time to read detailed content on your website. Similarly, someone who is making a decision about program adoption will want detailed information available on your website. Given that you will have several target audiences and since individuals will not progress along the continuum at the same rate, it makes sense to have a variety of strategies available at all times.
Once you have determined your media, you need to consider distribution streams. NCDDR stresses that people will only “accept assistance information and ideas from sources they believe to be credible and trustworthy.” It is most efficient to use existing outreach channels rather than create new ones. Consider partnering with organizations that have a high degree of credibility and are trusted by your targeted audience so that they can help you disseminate information about your program. Your partner’s role might be to include you in its national or regional conferences, sponsor a workshop, or include information about your program in its newsletter or on its web site. State and regional partnerships are particularly effective, according to Thomas Owens, in his 2001 article “Dissemination: A Key Element of the ATE Program.”
The Importance of Interaction
NCDDR recommends that if your goal is adoption of your model, then simply distributing information is not enough. You will need to choose activities that promote two-way interaction, especially at the decision stage, so that your audience can ask questions to help them move on to take action. NCDDR and other researchers also highlight the importance of providing technical assistance if you want others to adopt your programs or processes.
At this stage you could use a matrix like the one below to view your plan.
Determine the cost of your possible approaches as you design your plan. Make sure that you budget for travel, printing, design work, web hosting, and translation work. Some of these costs may be incurred after the end of the project period so you will need to plan accordingly.
Question 5: When will you share information?
Create a dissemination timeline outlining when you will start disseminating information and how long will it take.
Question 6: What are your measurable objectives?
Like all good plans, you need to build in performance goals, objectives and evaluation. You have already determined your goals so now you need to determine your objectives. Bly and Huberman suggest the following process objectives:
- requests for information;
- number of people signed up for training;
- number of people who visit the program sites;
- number of invitations for speakers;
We could add to this list:
- web site visits, and;
- number of programs that adopt processes or products created by your project;
- outcome objectives related to your program;
- follow-up with users to determine continued use of the products.
Common Problems with Dissemination Activities
Owens lists the following common areas of weakness for dissemination activities:
- Poorly targeted groups;
- Inadequate information about users;
- Insufficient evaluation of the materials/low quality materials;
- Lack of attention to the needs of users in their local setting;
- Only one media used;
- Reliance on one-way versus interactive communication;
- Limited technical assistance and local training.
While dissemination is rarely a major focus of a proposal, asking these simple questions during proposal development can help you to create a simple dissemination plan that avoids these common pitfalls.
This article is a brief overview of dissemination planning. There are several detailed sources of further information available – some of these sources are listed below as well as referenced articles.
Canadian Health Services Research Foundation. “Developing a Dissemination Plan.” Communication Notes. Retrieved from http://www.chsrf.ca/knowledge_transfer/pdf/dissemination_plan_e.pdf.
Ely, Donald P. and Huberman, A. Michael. “User-Friendly Handbook for Project Dissemination: Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education.” National Science Foundation Publication Number NSF 94-17, 1994.
Froyd, Jeffrey. Developing a Dissemination Plan.” 31 st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. Session F2G. 2001. Retrieved from http://www.foundationcoalition.org/publications/journalpapers/fie01/1306.pdf.
National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research. “Developing an Effective Dissemination Plan.” Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.ncddr.org/du/products/dissplan.html.
National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research. “A Review of the Literature on Dissemination and Knowledge Utilization.” Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1996. Retrieved from http://www.ncddr.org/cgi-bin/pdfexit.cgi?url=/du/products/DisabilityDiversity.pdf.
Owens, Thomas. “Dissemination: A Key Element of the ATE Program.” The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University. Fall 2001. Retrieved from http://www.wmich.edu/evalctr/ate/ATEpapers/dissemfull.pdf.
Shapiro, B.. (1994) “What Children Bring to Light: A Constructivist Perspective on Children’s Learning In Science.” New York: Teachers College Press.
Westbrook, J. and Boethel, M. (1997). “General Characteristics of Effective Dissemination and Utilization.” Retrieved from http://www.ncddr.org/du/products/characteristics.html.
We'll inform you about just-published articles, our upcoming books, professional Summits, live interviews, webinars, and more
If you are an experienced nonprofit-sector practitioner who wants to share your expertise by contributing down-to-earth articles written in a conversational style, we'd love to hear from you!
Request Permission to Reprint This Article
Copyright © 1992-2019 CharityChannel LLC.