First Element of Effective Dissemination: Involve Your Intended Users

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A young African-American woman sits at the computer, reviewing various media.

No one knows better than our users if our information fits their need.

January 2011

Did you take Section 3 of the Dissemination Self-Inventory, as we suggested? If so, then the discussion here will pick up where the inventory left off, and that’s…

According to NCDDR (the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research), there are four basic elements of dissemination:

  • the intended users;
  • the dissemination source;
  • the content to be disseminated; and
  • the dissemination media used for specific audiences.

Across the next pages, we’re going to look more closely at these four elements, for there’s a lot to know and consider about each. This page focuses on the first basic element of dissemination: Your intended users.

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Making the Info Personal to You

You’ll find the info provided here useful when it comes to developing, expanding, or revising your dissemination plan. As you read, consider how the information applies to you and your disseminating group.

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The Inventory as Springboard

When you think back to the questions in Section 3 of NCDDR’s Dissemination Self-Inventory, were you struck by how often the phrase “intended users” appeared? Here are just a few of the ways:

  • Does your dissemination plan identify intended users?
  • Were intended users involved in identifying appropriate dissemination media or channels?
  • Were intended users involved in field testing or reviewing products to be disseminated?
  • Will intended users be able to obtain information that is customized to their specific interests and needs?

From these questions and others on the Dissemination Self-Inventory, we can suppose that, to be effective disseminators, we need to:

  • identify our intended users clearly and be aware that we may have multiple audiences;
  • ask users how they’d like to receive our information (called “appropriate dissemination media or channels” in the inventory)
  • ask users to take a look at our products in draft and tell us frankly what they think, what’s confusing, where a picture would help, what they’re still left wondering about, what they’d delete if it were up to them;
  • offer users products and services that relate specifically, not generally, to their interests and needs;
  • involve other organizations or people that are well-known and credible to each user group;
  • include info about ourselves, so that users can make a judgment about our expertise and our understanding of them;
  • adapt products to fit user needs (e.g., materials in other languages, in alternative formats, and with varying amounts of technical info);
  • give examples of how to use the product or the information;
  • include info about the benefits of using the product or information;
  • offer users opportunities for person-to-person contact with your project or a trusted intermediary; and
  • offer our information in various forms (e.g., presentation, newsletter, article, audio, CD, telephone).

That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Especially for those of us on limited budgets, with limited staff, and looking at a mountain of work to do. It’s enough to make you run away (we hope you haven’t…and won’t!).

None of us can run away from considering what our users want and need, because it lies at the heart of whether or not they will actually understand and use our products or services. And that’s the bottom line of our work, surely: utilization.

NCDDR states this dissemination truth time and again: The goal of dissemination is utilization. And “one of the most effective ways to increase utilization…is to involve potential users in planning and implementation…” (NCDDR, 2001, p. 6).

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What Users Can Tell Us

  • What disability-related concern they are trying to address
  • What info or help is relevant to addressing that concern
  • Who they trust, who they will listen to
  • The best vehicles for communicating with them
  • The reading level we should use
  • The language we should use
  • The format we should use
  • Whether or not, in the end, we’ve been helpful

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Immediate Benefits of Connecting with Users

Communicating with users during planning and development is not always easy, and it can take a daunting amount of time and energy. Oh, it’s tempting, isn’t it, to just plunge ahead with what we think users need or will use? But consider for a moment the benefits we all stand to gain if we involve users along the way.

  • We’ll know what users want and need, instead of taking our best shot and hoping we hit the mark.
  • We’ll have feedback that’s invaluable before it’s too late and our product is done and on public display.
  • We’ll have solid, first-hand knowledge of who our users actually are—what language they speak, how well they read, how skilled they are with technology, or if technology is even available to them.

And no one will gain more from these disseminator-user exchanges than the users themselves. That’s reason enough to do it.

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How to Connect with Users

So, how do we encourage users to share their experiences, questions, concerns, and input with us, so that we might adequately plan ahead? Develop products that are actually useful—and that will be used?

The answer is simple: Ask. Listen. Take action based on what we learn.

The way to those simple things, though, is more challenging. It’s good to know there are many strategies and mechanisms at our fingertips for gathering user input and guidance. These include but are not limited to:

  • telephone;
  • email or letter;
  • online forums or discussion groups;
  • asking an intermediary to ask users for us or to connect users to us;
  • a mini-poll or survey on our website or sent to organizations that represent specific user groups;
  • small focus groups with selected user types;
  • postage-paid input or feedback cards;
  • opportunities to exchange info in person, such as conferences, meetings, or chance encounters;
  • “eavesdropping” on online gathering-spots of users;
  • subscribing to users’ newsletters;
  • holding an online chat with users periodically;
  • getting our hands on any user needs assessment conducted by others;
  • public polling data or marketing profiles;
  • social networking sites such as Facebook, or Twitter, MySpace.

You’ll notice that this list of methods takes advantage of the power of technology to reach a great many people very quickly and richly—but it isn’t limited to using technology. It can’t be. Users vary too much in their techno-savvy, their equipment, their access, and even their overall inclination to use technology. Millions don’t go online, have slow dial-up access, or wait in line at a library for a computer to become available. This means that we must have specific no-tech strategies to reach those users of ours who have no or low tech.

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More to Come

This page has introduced the essential nature of having an ongoing dialogue with your intended users, even the hard-to-reach ones. The benefits of involving users in planning, development, and dissemination itself far outweigh the effort of doing so, or the convenience of not doing so.

Part of the Dissemination Initiative we envision will be to add detail to the “how-to” of communicating with your users and gathering their input. Stay tuned for the “more to come.”

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NOTICE: The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) is no longer in operation. Our funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) ended on September 30, 2013. Our website and all its free resources will remain available until September 30, 2014.