We are Alan Melchior and Tatjana Meschede, Senior Researchers at Brandeis University’s Heller School, and Nancy Boyer, Director of Evaluation and Impact at FIRST, a global nonprofit providing STEM programs to youth ages 4 through 18. Over the last 9 years FIRST and Brandeis have been working together on a longitudinal study assessing the long-term impact of FIRST’s programs on participating middle and high school students. We have some exciting findings we want to share broadly, but, we have often struggled with how to best share the data with various stakeholder groups in ways that make the results accessible. We have learned a lot over the years on what works and what doesn’t.
Lesson Learned #1
Short is best: for many of our audiences including funders, educators, and parents, a one or two page brief works best. Few want to read a long report. Here is an example of a recent two pager designed to present select highlights from the study.
Lesson Learned #2
Brief summary reports are good too: There are some in our community who need a more detailed, though still short report to share with funders, school administrators or other entities. To meet that need, each year we produce an annual Summary Report accompanied by a Technical Note outlining the methodology of the study.
Hot Tip #1
Create multiple PowerPoint decks: Other than the written reports, PowerPoint presentations are the most frequently used tools for presenting our results. Over the years we have refined the content we present, customizing the presentations for different audiences. We produce a long deck with a full set of results that might be used with academic audiences and with the internal evaluation team and short decks for Board briefings or with talking points for others at FIRST who present on the data. Each version uses impactful data visuals and compelling headlines; the shorter versions contain few technical notes in the slides (we save those for the notes).
Hot Tip #2
Use Video to include the voice of the participant: The best presentations often combine stories or personal experiences with the numbers. FIRST used existing video footage to create a short video highlighting the key insights from the study with matching observations from FIRST participants. The video makes the program and its impacts come alive is used widely to share findings in a short and compelling format.
Hot Tip #3
Venture beyond the traditional research conferences: In order to use these tools to reach a broader audience, we ventured out to conferences and meetings that we might not have used to present research findings in the past. Those included the annual conference at the FIRST Championship event (to reach the FIRST community); conferences aimed at educators (ISTE – international Society for Technology in Education); the annual conferences for women in engineering (SWE – the Society of Women Engineers) and engineering education (ASEE – American Society for Engineering Education).
FIRST worked with Stephanie Evergreen on a Fortune Teller (click the link to see an example). FIRST staff used this at the beginning of a presentation to an audience of students, parents, volunteers, donors and educators as an informal way to engage them in the findings.
The key lesson is to be flexible and creative when sharing results. We invite you to post your ideas on sharing findings with various audiences so we can all continue to learn. What works for the organizations you work with?
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