The Dissemination Research Base

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Photo of glasses atop two open books, with a row of books behind.January 2011

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities is naturally very interested in what the research has to say about effective dissemination practices. We’ve been monitoring it and learning from it for years and are pleased to summarize what research has found and can tell us as disseminators.


The Nature of Knowledge Building

Information dissemination has come a long way and, with it, our understanding of how to transfer knowledge, build skills, and improve capacities. One thing we’ve learned is that giving people information alone is very likely to fall far short of transferring actual knowledge to them or influencing their actions. (1)

For the National Dissemination Center, these findings indicate that we must do more than disseminate information, and that what we do disseminate must be framed in terms and ways that build knowledge and inform action.

The knowledge management and utilization (KM) field greatly informs the process by which the National Dissemination Center will respond to this challenge. In the KM frame, knowledge is “the understanding that develops as people react to and use the information that is available to them.” (2)  Information becomes knowledge when people translate what they receive into their own terms and make it “their own.” (3)  People are most likely to do this and then use the knowledge when a personal significance or social component is involved. (4)  This makes the information relevant, worth pursuing in greater depth. It also motivates people to act—to pick up a phone and call a reputable source for help, to change professional practices or personal ones.

Thus, to be effective, the National Dissemination Center must pair information with a personal connection, so that people can see how it connects to their own lives and how to use it there.

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Dissemination’s Bottom Line

Dissemination is an evidence-based craft whose bottom line, always, must be understandability and utilization. (5)  Implicit in this bottom line are attendant questions: Understandable to whom? Utilized by whom? How? To what purpose?

Only users can effectively answer these questions. The large body of research on dissemination is replete with this same message, stressing again and again that, to be effective, dissemination must:

  • come from a source the user finds credible; (6)
  • involve collaborative problem solving and exchange between disseminator and recipient; (7)
  • utilize a social marketing perspective and design (which is strongly user-oriented); (8)
  • embed in its process a multi-way dialogue and social components to engage, motivate, and support the recipient in utilization; (9) and
  • be tailored to fit user need, culture, and local context. (10)

The last point, tailoring, speaks directly to dissemination’s bottom line, especially to understandability. Understandability hinges on the degree to which information is attuned to a user’s reality and is seen by the user as relevant and applicable. (11)  “User reality” has become as complex as our society itself, varying along such dimensions as ethnicity, culture, native language or mode of communication, reading ability, disability, SES, and technological savvy. (12)  Consider the sheer numbers of people affected by just two of these, literacy and language:

  • 50 million adults can’t read as well as a 4th or 5th grader; 42 million can’t read at all. (13)
  • 13.8 million Spanish speakers do not speak English well; neither do 3.4 million speakers of Indo-European languages (e.g., German, Italian, Russian) nor 3.6 million speakers of Asian-Pacific Island languages (e.g., Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean). (14)

There are specific ways to craft and present information that supports diverse users in accessing, understanding and applying it, including:

  • adhering to the principles of universal design;
  • writing in plain language;
  • defining terms;
  • activating or providing any prerequisite knowledge;
  • making translations available;
  • offering the same information in a different format (e.g., audio); and
  • providing users with opportunities for exchange and dialogue with each other and with the Center. (15)

Dissemination needs to be conducted in the same user-driven way.

Dissemination cannot be “broad-spectrum” approaches to “everyone at once” but must favor dissemination to specific audiences, via the entities they trust and the vehicles they typically use.


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The Digital Divide

Recognizing that not everyone uses the Web is one crucial “user reality” that cannot be ignored. Although their numbers have been diminishing as years go by, millions still don’t go online, and the reasons they don’t are important. The most influential reasons are age, income, education, ethnicity, and access. (16)   For example:

  • Household income is the greatest predictor of Internet use for Americans.  (17)
  • Adults with low Internet access (36%, including those with only dial-up connections) rely on TV, radio, and other media for information and are less successful than high-speed Internet users at getting the material they need. Still, they need information with the same intensity and for the same reasons as the rest of the population. (18)


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Addressing The Digital Divide

The National Dissemination Center must offer an array of other ways (besides the Web) that people can access NICHCY’s information and services, including:

  • a bilingual toll-free telephone/TTY line for personalized contact; and
  • access to everything available on NICHCY’s site in text and audio format, both downloadable to cell phones and personal data assistants.

Interestingly, the advent of mobile technology is making the biggest dent in the disparities between Internet access and use between whites, people of color, and Latinos. According to Aaron Smith of the PEW Internet and American Life Project, “…mobile is playing a key role in bridging those gaps between people who have that broadband connection at home and people that don’t. It really gives people an economically viable opportunity to tap into the online world that they wouldn’t normally have.” Minority Americans, specifically African Americans, are the handiest when it comes to mobile use.  (19)

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Using Social Media

The dissemination literature places great emphasis on the power that interaction between users and disseminators has to make information dissemination effective. With that in mind, what we’d like to establish the use of social media in NICHCY’s approach to dissemination (and the network’s as well).

By social media, we mean “any communications format where the users publish the content”—multimedia, music, pictures, video, text. (20)  Its use revolves around the idea of listening, conversation, and the relationships created therein. Social media is often creative, playful, and yet focused.  (21) Because we’re relatively new in this forest (and the forest itself is relatively new!), we thought a brief overview of social media might be in order. Brace yourself, here it comes!

Blog | A Web-based journal that is typically created and maintained by a person who is passionate about a subject, someone who has a fire in the belly and wants to communicate with the world and his or her area of expertise. Many blogs allow readers to leave comments. Blogs have emerged as an important tool in monitoring what millions of people are saying in your arena of expertise and in shaping that conversation.  (22)

Forum | An interactive, online discussion about a specific topic. Might also be referred to as a “chat room.” Users submit postings for all to read and discussion ensues. (23)

Listserv | A group email list that helps like-minded people stay connected to one another. Instead of going to a central place to read messages, the listserv sends messages out by email to everyone who’s signed up for the listserv. (24)

Podcast | An audio broadcast that has been converted to an MP3 file or other audio file format for playback on a portable music player such as an iPod (hence, the term podcast) or to your computer. (25)

RSS | Stands for “really simple syndication” of Web content. Most widely used in distributing news headlines on the Web. A Web site that wants to allow other sites to publish some of its content creates an RSS document and registers the document with an RSS publisher. A user that can read RSS-distributed content can use the content on a different site. (26)

Social Networking | A Web site that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject or just to “hang out” together. Members create their own online “profile” with biographical data, pictures, likes, dislikes, and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by voice, chat, instant message, blogs, and videoconference. The service typically provides a way for members to invite their friends to join, who in turn can invite their friends, and on and on. Globally, hundreds of millions of people have joined one or more social networking sites. Examples: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Friendster, Linkedin  (27)

Streaming Video | A sequence of “moving images” sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed to the viewer as they arrive. Streaming media is streaming video with sound. With streaming video or streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video or hearing the sound. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream and is played as it arrives.  (28)

Wiki | A Web site that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wikis are unusual among group communication mechanisms in that they allow contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself. (29)

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References

1  Ademan, H., & Taylor, L. (n.d.). Systemic change and empirically-supported practices: The implementation problem. Retrieved June 13, 2008, from the Center for Mental Health in Schools Web site: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/systemic/implementation problem.pdf

2  Quotation from page 13 of:  Petrides, L.A., & Nodine, T.R. (2003). Knowledge management in education: Defining the landscape. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education Web site: http://iskme.path.net/kmeducation.pdf

3  Tugwell, P.S., Santesso, N.A., O’Connor, A.M., Wilson, A.J. (2007, December). Knowledge translation for effective consumers. Physical Therapy, 87(12), 1728-1738.

4  Louis, K.S., & Jones, L.M. (2001). Dissemination with impact: What research suggests for practice in career and technical education. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 461 768)

5 Westbrook, J.D., & Boethel, M. (1997). General characteristics of effective dissemination and utilization. Austin, TX: National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research.

6 Multiple sources, including:

Scullion, P. A. (2002). Effective dissemination strategies. Nurse Researcher, 10(1), 65-77.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (1996b). Improving the usefulness of disability research: A toolbox of dissemination strategies (Guides To Improving Practice, No. 2). Austin, T: Author.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (2001). General orientation to new knowledge utilization fields of informatics, knowledge management, and information technology. Austin, T: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 457 621)

7 Multiple sources, including:

Scullion, P. A. (2002). Effective dissemination strategies. Nurse Researcher, 10(1), 65-77.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (2001). General orientation to new knowledge utilization fields of informatics, knowledge management, and information technology. Austin, T: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 457 621)

Zanin-Yost, A. (2004). Digital reference: What the past has taught us and what the future will hold. Library Philosophy and Practice, 7(1) (electronic version). Retrieved July 20, 2008, from www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/zanin-yost.htm

8 Turning Point Social Marketing National Excellence Collaborative. (n.d.). The basics of social marketing. Seattle, WA: Author.

9 Multiple sources, including:

Formoso, G., Marata, A.M., & Magrini, N. (2007). Social marketing: Should it be used to promote evidence-based health information? Social Science & Medicine, 64(4), 949-953.

Graham, I.D., Logan, J., Harrison, M.B., Straus, S.E., Tetroe, J., Caswell, W., & Robinson, N. (2006). Lost in knowledge translation: Time for a map? Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 36(3), 13-24.

Hood, P. (2002). Perspectives on knowledge utilization in education. San Francisco: WestEd.

Louis, K.S., & Jones, L.M. (2001). Dissemination with impact: What research suggests for practice in career and technical education. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 461 768)

Petrides, L.A., & Nodine, T.R. (2003). Knowledge management in education: Defining the landscape. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education Web site: http://iskme.path.net/kmeducation.pdf

Scullion, P. A. (2002). Effective dissemination strategies. Nurse Researcher, 10(1), 65-77.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (1996a). Improving links between research and practice: Approaches to the effective dissemination of disability research (Guides To Improving Practice, No. 1). Austin, TX: Author.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (1996b). Improving the usefulness of disability research: A toolbox of dissemination strategies (Guides To Improving Practice, No. 2). Austin, TX: Author.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (2001). General orientation to new knowledge utilization fields of informatics, knowledge management, and information technology. Austin, TX: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 457 621)

Westbrook, J.D., & Boethel, M. (1997). General characteristics of effective dissemination and utilization. Austin, TX: National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research.

Zanin-Yost, A. (2004). Digital reference: What the past has taught us and what the future will hold. Library Philosophy and Practice, 7(1) (electronic version). Retrieved July 20, 2008, from www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/zanin-yost.htm

10 Multiple sources, including:

Santisteban, D. et al. (2006). Utilizing dissemination findings to help understand and bridge the research and practice gap in the treatment of substance abuse disorders in Hispanic populations. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 84S, 94-101.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (2001). General orientation to new knowledge utilization fields of informatics, knowledge management, and information technology. Austin, T: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 457 621)

11 Scullion, P. A. (2002). Effective dissemination strategies. Nurse Researcher, 10(1), 65-77.

12 Louis, K.S., & Jones, L.M. (2001). Dissemination with impact: What research suggests for practice in career and technical education. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 461 768)

13  Grim illiteracy statistics indicate Americans have a reading problem. (2007). Retrieved July 23, 2008, from the Education Portal Web site: http://education-portal.com/articles/Grim_Illiteracy_Statistics_Indicate_Americans_Have_a_Reading_Problem.html

14 U.S. Census Bureau. (2003a, October). Language use and English-speaking ability: 2000 [Census  2000 Brief]. Retrieved July 23, 2008, from www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-29.pdf

15 CAST. (2008). Universal design for learning guidelines version 1.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Available online at http://www.cast.org/publications/UDLguidelines/index.html

16 Fox, S. (2009). The social life of health information. Retrieved from the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/8-The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx

17 Wayne, T. (2010, December 12). Digital divide is a matter of income. Retrieved January 13, 2011, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2010/Digital-Divide-Is-a-Matter-of-Income.aspx

18 Estabrook, L., Witt, E., & Rainie, L. (2007, December 30). Information searches that solve problems: How people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need. Retrieved August 3, 2008, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site:  http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Information-Searches-That-Solve-Problems/01-Executive-Summary-and-Major-Findings.aspx

19 “Mobile access helps agencies break past digital divide | Interview with Aaron Smith.” (2010, July 8). Retrieved January 13, 2011, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site:  http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2010/Mobile-access-helps-agencies-break-past-digital-divide.aspx

20 Hilburn, I.W. (2007, October 23). A simple definition of social media. Retrieved December 4, 2008, from http://blog.isabelhilborn.com/2007/10/a-simple-defini.html

21 “Techipedia on the definition of social media marketing.” (2008, July 8). Retrieved December 4, 2008, from http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/definition-social-media-marketing/

22 Scott, D.M. (2007).  The new rules of marketing and PR. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (p. 46)

23 “Forum.” (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2008 from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/forum

24 Scott, D.M. (2007).  The new rules of marketing and PR. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (p. 46)

25  “Definition of podcast.” (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2008, from PCMag.com: http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0%2C2542%2Ct%3Dpodcast&i%3D49433%2C00.asp

26  “What is RSS?” (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2008, from Webopedia: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/R/RSS.html

27 “Definition of social networking site.” (n.d.) Retrieved December 11, 2008, from PCMag.com: http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=social%2Bnetworking&i=55316,00.asp

28  “Streaming video.” (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2008, from http://searchunifiedcommunications.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid186_gci213055,00.html

29 “What is wiki?” (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2008, from: http://www.wiki.org/wiki.cgi?WhatIsWiki

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