One of the major shifts observed in what the European Commission expects from research projects is the importance placed on communication and dissemination activities. Now, communication and dissemination must no longer be an afterthought. Even from the proposal stage, a clear link between communication, dissemination and exploitation and project impact must be clearly articulated even before the project even hits the ground.
The truth is that despite available funding, resources will always be limited - much more for dissemination and communication activities. There aren’t always funds to hire a marketing specialist or a science communicator, and there aren’t always resources available to use the latest SaaS digital marketing tools or boost visibility through ads.
In the past few years, I have had the pleasure of coming into contact with scores of research projects. We ran the European Commission’s Common Dissemination Booster where more than 300 research projects across the H2020 and FP7 programmes (and even a few nationally-funded projects) have been able to generate higher visibility for their results, reach new stakeholders they haven’t reached before, network with other institutions and projects that are working on similar or complementary areas - ALL FOR FREE!
Free you say? How? All through project group clustering and joint dissemination activities!
First, look within your current network. You may already know some other projects within your ecosystem that have results that are complementary to yours. Maybe you've been funded to focus on the technical implementation of a specific innovative technology, but you know of another project that focuses more on the policy and economic aspects - that would be a complementary project!
If you don’t have a wide enough network, then spend some time in https://cordis.europa.eu/. First, look at projects that have been funded under the same call or funding programmes or topics. Given the similar programmes or topics, this means you and the projects funded under the same call respond to similar challenges at least from a high-level policy or societal standpoint and that is already a good reason for establishing a synergy.
After doing this, look for more projects through keywords for similar technologies, topics, domains etc. Ideally, you’d want anywhere between 10-20 projects. Consider even projects that have ended. Some coordinators are still keen on promoting their results even after their project has ended! You could also try looking for nationally-funded projects, or even projects funded outside the EU. For these, you’ll need to spend a bit more time as the majority of those will not have websites or may only have information in their local languages.
In the end, you’d really like a final project group composition of 4-7 different projects. Any more could be too difficult to coordinate. Too few, and you may not benefit from a wide enough network.
Once you’ve compiled your list of projects, you should reach out to them. Introduce your project, tell them why they’re being contacted and explain how establishing a light synergy with them to collaborate on communicating and disseminating results can help generate visibility for everyone’s results. If they’re an EU project, then they’ll be interested to know that joint dissemination activities between EU projects are highly encouraged and viewed favourably especially during evaluations and reviews.
Remember that when approaching other projects, you need to clearly show the benefit for them. Most likely, not all will respond, but at least the most proactive and impact-minded projects will and these are the ones you want in your project group.
Set a joint meeting with the projects where all the projects can introduce their project, their results as well as what they wish to achieve from a dissemination, exploitation and impact standpoint.
During the joint meeting, it is important to identify what complementary results you have. You’ll need the name of the result, a short description, what TRL (technology readiness level) (if applicable) and when will it be available. It is also important to understand who benefits from the result.
Once you have the results on a table, you can cluster these results and package them. These can be methodologies, technologies, hardware, software solutions, data sets, reports, etc.
Identify as well your priority stakeholders. At first, it is possible that five or more stakeholders could be identified, but for the joint dissemination activities, you can just limit your target to 2-3 stakeholders to focus your joint activities on. Naturally, projects still maintain their own stakeholders and disseminate their own project results on their own time, but for the sake of the joint dissemination activities, the projects would focus on the 2-3 identified stakeholders.
When choosing the target stakeholders, it is recommended to actually choose stakeholders that you have not yet disseminated to significantly. For example, if most of the projects have already had extensive experience in dissemination to research and academia, then, it might be more valuable to select a secondary stakeholder such as policymakers and actors or industry, for example. When achieved, this allows the projects to report having disseminated to a variety of stakeholders and potentially generate more impact.
Selecting the right channels such as social media, press and media, or events really depends on which target stakeholder your project group has identified. For example, if you’re a research-focused project but you’ve decided on disseminating to the industry, then joining an exhibition or expo could be an option.
Based on the selected stakeholders, brainstorm as a group on possible appropriate dissemination channels and actions you can carry out as a group. Promote and reach out across all the projects networks. This allows all the projects to benefit from each other’s network.
Drawing up a joint dissemination plan doesn’t have to be a long process. At its simplest, a dissemination plan is a timeline in table format with columns on the dissemination activity, target date and the activity owner. Here, it is important to note that the activity owner is not the only one that will carry out the joint dissemination activity but is merely the one making sure that the project group is moving to carry out the activity.
The timeline should include agreed joint dissemination actions such as cross-posting across social media channels and websites, events to jointly participate in, activities to collaborate on etc. The joint dissemination plan should also have a clear start and clear end. It can last anywhere between 3 months to one year, or even more, depending on how long the projects would like to continue carrying out the collaboration. It is also important not to overload the plan with too many joint activities as you also need to take into consideration the regular day-to-day dissemination and communication activities that the projects have already done.
Make sure that the joint dissemination plan only contains activities that the entire project group, with their limited resources available, can realistically carry out.
Finally, as part of your dissemination plan, agree on a recurring meeting. At the very least, a monthly meeting is needed to synchronise the implementation of the plan. There also needs to be a facilitator that will follow up on the activities and oversee the organisation of meetings and the implementation of the activities.
The dissemination plan should also ensure that each activity tracks certain metrics. For example, if it is the publication of web content, then this could be visits or downloads of your online content (e-reports, policy briefs etc.). For joint webinars, this would be the registrants and attendees as well as views of the published recording.
In the last 1-3 months of your collaboration, create a joint document centred around the activities that were listed in the joint dissemination plan. Here you can indicate the composition of the project group and the collaboration, showcase how each activity was carried out, and finally the quantitative and qualitative impacts of the joint dissemination activities. It is important that this report is co-authored by all the projects in the project group and is distributed to all the projects.
This would then be an important reference and supporting material that can be used for project reviews and proof of impactful synergies. It can also present you with a model for future joint dissemination activities.
To conclude, joint dissemination activities present your projects with a way to increase visibility for free, widen their network and get in touch with both projects that can help your project reach its goals or potential future partners.
If the steps above still seem daunting, lucky for you, the European Commission has launched the Horizon Results Booster which provides free services to H2020, FP7 and Horizon Europe projects to cluster with other relevant projects and provide joint dissemination support such as free communication materials, graphics work, consultancy, and more! Trust-IT services is one of the expert organisations providing services through the Horizon results Booster; we would be glad to support you in your project’s joint dissemination journey!