When seeking approval to conduct your research study from your school’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), you may be asked to explain how you will share or disseminate the findings of your study. This is an issue that many students do not even consider until they reach the IRB stage and are asked for this information. This is understandable, as most schools do not require students to discuss the dissemination of findings in their methodology chapters. The result, however, is that students get stymied by this section of their IRB application form. In this blog, we will provide some guidance on how to form an acceptable plan for sharing your findings.
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First, you should determine who should be informed about your study findings. The two general groups of people who should receive the results are study participants and community stakeholders. The IRB will often require you to make the results of your study available to your participants. However, depending on your study topic and data collection method, you may also be obligated to share your findings with stakeholders in the field or the community. Stakeholders are individuals who may be impacted by your study procedures or findings. For example, if you are doing a study on children in a particular school, the children’s teachers and parents may be considered stakeholders. Any organization that facilitates your data collection (i.e., connects you with participants) also may be considered a stakeholder. Your plans for sharing your findings need to include these individuals and organizations.
After you have identified who you should disseminate the findings to, you need to determine how you will do it. If you are conducting a basic survey study, the simplest way to share findings with participants is to include your contact information at the end of the survey (i.e., in your debriefing statement) that participants may use to request the findings. Although this is the simplest way, this method is considered passive and is often not accepted by IRBs. Another way is to provide a link to a website or social media page at the end of your survey and post the findings on that website once the study has been completed. Alternatively, if you worked with an organization to distribute your survey to participants, that same organization may also be willing to help disseminate your findings (e.g., by a listserv e-mail). For stakeholders, it is sometimes appropriate to give a face-to-face presentation of the findings (e.g., at a community meeting).
A final point you should consider is the presentation of your findings. What you share with participants and stakeholders should be concise and understandable. This means that you should not just send them a copy of your finished dissertation. You should summarize your findings in layman’s terms so that they can be understood by a non-academic audience. You can use your dissertation abstract as a guide for constructing an acceptable presentation of the findings.