Blog: To make your research program a success, supporting stakeholders are vital! - Creative Communication by Birgitta van Loon

Blog: Creative communication workshop Quality of Care during the APH Annual Meeting by Birgitta van Loon

To make your research program a success, supporting stakeholders are vital! And you may just find them in surprising places

Research on public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. As a result, the understanding of the research programs is not only a matter for scientists but also for those who are involved in improving public health in practice. Your work is in the lead to an innovation or change in the society. The more your audience understands the impact of your research, the better the audience appreciates the reputation of your institute.

To achieve this, “flow” is just as important as the content of your research. Share your enthusiasm! Great names went before you. Florence Nightingale and other Nobel prize winners perform best on their “flow“. [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who created the concept of flow. He is particularly known for flow psychology and positive psychology. Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.

These are moments of adrenaline which you could share with others and involve them too. Involvement through communication on your research project has to be shared in different parts to the target groups you want to communicate with. This means that the layers and timing of the communication process are important.

Explaining your message - according to your research program - to your target groups is not just about telling them what you are doing. It is necessary to take into account that the purpose of the message is not always clear at once. If you want a better understanding on your research program please take your audience with you on a communication journey and ask yourself the question: “Do I really explain the purpose of my research plan according to the pyramid? Did I give them the right information? Is it levelling with their education?” Can I communicate with them in a dialogue? And do we match on the same inspiration level? It could be a part of the flow!

Benjamin Franklin 1705-1790) scientist and inventor of the bifocal spyglass once said:

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand”

In the modern world, we communicate with more than just words. You have the opportunity of total involvement of the human senses at your disposal. Did you know, 80% of visuals are remembered, and just 15% of words? Providing experience and appealing to your audience imagination is a challenge to take into account for your communication groups. How can you show and involve them in your flow?

Most of the time, we communicate orally and digitally, but do we really understand the meaning of what the other is telling? It would be a nice experiment if you ask five different educated people to describe the meaning of e-health, not in word but by images. You will receive completely different story’s because we always forget that we first communicate with ourselves by visualizing in our own mind. If somebody tells you that he/she has bought a bike, you already have made up your mind (even with questioning) what kind of bike that is. I do like to make the statement that translation of research subjects in a ‘more understandable (less scientific) language’ is very important to realize understanding of your subject by different sorts of groups in the society.


Health is everybody’s concern, whether you enjoyed high or low education does not matter.

Quality of life is a subjective experience by different groups in social society. It is important that patients have a role in pointing out relevant related problems and possible solutions in health care, concerning their well being.

We will receive a total different answer than from a high school educated patient or from our neighbour. The only way you get attention is to realize to whom you like to present the research project to. Take into account that communication is fast and worldwide. So it is essential that you reach your audience with the social language they can handle. Like for example with support of pictures, stories, examples, sounds, sometimes even smells. This is the only way to fix the 4 seconds of attention of our audience in the fast communication world.

Most important is that you choose your personal favourite tools that make you proud. Never ever use tools for your target groups you do not agree with or even dislike. Find your flow in communication and what hits you must, but nevertheless keep in mind what the weakness points in your story to the target groups are.

Cooperation and mutual understanding of your colleagues and stakeholders: 

But how can you connect your flow to others? Especially to influential stakeholders for the moments that you communicate the results of your project?The clue is that before you start your research project, you have to organize a list of persons who are important during the project and the outcome of your research subject.

The more you involve them in different stadia of your project, the more they are willing to interact with you if there is a question or a desired acting for them. Therefore they have to understand the impact and the relevance of the resultants for the group.

Unexpected stakeholders:

The groups related to your project are the bone of the communication of successful research programs’. Even unexpected stakeholders, like family members or a Professor from Harvard, could be a new line towards communication with the community you want to reach.
It sounds easier than it looks, because it is not only “naming a group” but secondly you have to estimate when the moment is there to communicate with them and in what way. 

The level of communication with your stakeholder  

It is common in communication that you first make an overview of your stakeholders and influential(s) in a map. For example stakeholders like: government, care professionals, but also your colleagues. And most of all: the patients.

If you want to send your messages outside your research environment, you always have to analyse the stadia in which your project is. And remember that your knowledge about the project is far beyond that of the stakeholder you want to involve.

First of all the Big Hairy Audacious Goals: what is the BIG goal you want to accomplish when your research is finished? Then you have to focus on the different journey levels; the stadia of the involvement for target groups.

This means that you have to accompany your stakeholders and peers in the “stages” of the research steps and take in mind for your communication that the group may know less or may be less involved than you are. Every step has a different message for a different stakeholder.

I called it community management. The best you can do is to realize in what knowledge or environmental (health) state your target group is. Be aware that internal and external communication is not the “case” anymore. Because of the digital world, every single item communicating on your project will be ready to enter the digital world. This means that the way “how and when” you like to bring your message to the outside environment, you have to consider that the media is able to publish it as well. Even when it is just an oral meeting, news will be news: always.

Reading the tea leaves is the simple trick: 

You have to ask yourself the following questions:

•      To whom we like to communicate at this moment?
•      And when?
•      What are our strengths in our messages?
•      With what kind of communication tools? 

How could you help your stakeholders to feel trust and believes in the outcome?

Please don’t forget the individual touch and just a paper-abstract is sometimes not enough. Human interest is the spine of your communication: find a way to do it in storytelling, with examples with names and professional standing of the team. You will find out that it will increase bonding and emotional connections on the project. Be sure the communication tools are fitting in your system too. If you are very good at social media, that should be a part of your tools. On the other hand, if you are not sure about the professionalism of your press release look for a specialist to support you.


The more you engage on different levels with your target groups, the more it brings your project under the attention. Indeed they will continue telling your messages to other peers.
Than you are building social relevance and incorporation of the public health. Because you are a responsible and competent partner in innovation and capacity building with public health practitioners, healthcare professionals, policy makers and communities in our environment.

It brings you to:

“Involve me and I will understand”