© Frans Lanting/www.lanting.com

Pathways to impact

Three years ago, CIFOR embarked on a daring effort to reinvent its communications programme. Backed by the Board, and leveraging an increased budget and a reputation for independent cutting edge research, the Center’s communications team retrained, retooled and relaunched a programme that has produced startling results and has become a focus of research organisations globally.

"As a research organisation, we need to bridge the gap between research, policy and practice. CIFOR’s knowledge-sharing model provides clear and measurable pathways to impact for our research. Results are startling."

At the core is CIFOR’s knowledge-sharing model that provides clear, dynamic and measurable pathways to impact for research results. It is web-centric and combines contemporary social media tools with traditional outreach channels. The objective: to bridge the gap between research, policy and practice, to enhance multiple feedback channels, to speed the delivery of results to stakeholders, and to slash the time to impact.

The team began by combing through its subscriber lists, removing outdated contact details and then rebuilding the lists one individual at a time, collecting participant lists at conferences, adding sign-up forms to its websites, and trolling through the rolodexes of scientists. The result: by the end of 2011, CIFOR had built a listserv of 26,000 stakeholders, carefully categorised by region, interest and language.

At the heart of the communications effort is CIFOR.org. After studying the world’s 50 most influential websites, an expanded web team relaunched the CIFOR website in late 2010. Then throughout 2011, the team redesigned and relaunched 10 project sites, all using the same look and feel as the main site. In April, in partnership with Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, CIFOR launched REDD Indonesia.org, an Indonesian-language site designed as a learning centre on REDD (in six months, users downloaded 10,000 publications). By the end of 2011, one year after its launch, traffic to CIFOR.org had increased by 30%, while page views had climbed 340% to 15.3 million according to web-tracking service AWStats. In addition, CIFOR’s publications were visited 151,857 times on Google Books in 2011, almost double that in 2010.

Newly launched social media platforms reached out to new audiences, drove traffic to the sites and provided valuable feedback channels. By the end of the year, followers of CIFOR’s multilingual newsfeeds on Twitter and Facebook reached 6,000. On YouTube, users watched our videos 45,000 times; on Slideshare, stakeholders viewed our PowerPoint presentations some 60,000 times; and on Flickr, views of our photographs reached 45,000, many used by newspapers, magazines and journals worldwide.

Be your own CNN
Seeing a demand for independent news on forests and enlisting former correspondents from Jakarta to Lima (Time, Associated Press, Bloomberg), the Center launched its Forests News blog. In 2011, the blog published 260 articles (many also translated into French, Indonesian, Spanish and Japanese) and readership increased from 2,000 per month to 26,000. In August, Google accredited the blog as a legitimate news outlet (one of the first for an environmental research organisation) and an increasing number of news aggregators – such as Huffington Post and Reuters AlertNet – republished stories, including documentary videos and photo essays. In March, CIFOR relaunched POLEX, a forest-policy listserv first established in the mid-1990s. One surprising result: journal articles covered by a blog or POLEX showed at least three-fold increases or more in readership.

Despite the power of social media, the Center recognises that policy makers still rely on traditional media as their main source of information; indeed, research funded by the UK found that policy change rarely occurs without a public debate as fostered by traditional media. With a goal of becoming a reliable media source on tropical forests, CIFOR changed its policy to allow journalists to contact scientists directly and it expanded its media database to 2,600 contacts. As a result, the number of times CIFOR research was quoted in the media and online tripled.

The communication model gathered momentum at 10 international conferences and 15 national events that CIFOR convened or attended to assist the global effort to spotlight the challenges highlighted during the International Year of Forests. Included in this report are separate stories on Forest Day 5 and the Forests Indonesia Conference.

Citations in ISI journals of peer-reviewed articles written by CIFOR’s scientists had the biggest jump ever to 867. CIFOR’s ISI ‘H-index’ – which measures both the productivity and impact of the published work – was 29, in the top third of all CGIAR centres.

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