Producing an insightful and impactful report
Niall Blake-Knox analyses what goes into producing a high-quality and effective report
Hi there, my name’s Niall Blake-Knox, and I’m a Communications and Policy Analyst here at Crest Advisory. Today I’m going to talk you through how to produce an insightful and impactful report. I’m going to go through four areas. I’m going to talk about: what do I actually mean by insightful and impactful; then I’ll look at a bit of the planning that goes in before you start the research; doing the actual research itself; and then looking at the final product.
So first of all, what do I mean when I say ‘an insightful and impactful report’?
I mean that this is not an academic study; this is not something you are going to see produced by a university, which is obviously a lot more long-winded and a huge amount of resource and effort over and above has gone into it. But it is still evidence-based, research-driven, and robust. And that is absolutely critical. And second of all – and the key difference here – is that it will be heard. It is going to be both insightful AND impactful. People will listen to it and it will actually achieve some sort of change or what you want it to be achieving. Too often, very interesting and insightful reports are produced and they don’t go anywhere. They sit on a shelf and gather dust – this is what we want to avoid and that’s where we’re really going to talk through this today.
Off the back of that, the first and most vital ingredient to making sure of those things we’ve just talked about is that you need to plan the research and communications together. They should inform each other, they should go hand in hand, and you can’t really do one without the other.
So first of all, you start by asking yourself two questions. Number 1: what do you want to achieve? What is the change or the impact that you want to achieve? That could be as simple as informing the public of an interesting or important topic that you’ve thought about. It could be setting yourselves up as a thought leader in your specific industry so that people come to you. Or thirdly it may be to actually change government policy. These things all inform the way you do your research and how you actually produce the end product. If you, for example, want to change government policy, you’ll probably need to start thinking a lot more about including public opinion, what the public really think about the matter you’re discussing, because that’s what politicians and policymakers care about. So that’s just an idea of how they can actually inform each other.
And that’s where we come into the second question we’ve just alluded to: who is the audience and who are the key stakeholders? At the end of the day, when you’re producing your report or you’re releasing it, those key audiences and key stakeholders need to be the ones that you target specifically, and they need to be the ones that you have kept in mind from the beginning. So do think about that – what they’re interested in; what their motivations are. And really let that inform the research that you’re going to be doing.
This is the key message from the planning stage: give people the evidence that they need to implement the change that you want. And really, if you follow these steps and these two questions, you shouldn’t have a problem doing that.
Now once you’ve done that, you get onto the stage of actually doing the research. This might seem a bit basic, a bit straightforward, but it’s important that you really stick to a very structured plan.
First of all, desk research. This is the foundation of any solid bit of research or reporting. This is what you’ll have to fall back on if you start getting scrutinised. Again, stick to your clear structure; don’t disappear down a rabbit hole and get distracted. Set your desk research up to then feed into the next stage, which is your additional research – that is your polling; your focus groups; anything above and beyond basic desk research, which is really going to add a huge amount of richness and improve the robustness even further. Thirdly and most importantly for us here at Crest – and it’s something that we would use very heavily in our reporting and our research – is asking the experts and testing our assumptions. It’s all well and good if you’ve done an incredible amount of desk research and some polling and focus groups, there is still margin for error there. So what we do is we take it out to our contacts, the other people that we’re working with, who are industry leaders and experts within the criminal justice system, and we’ll ask them “Are we correct in what we’re thinking?”, “Are we following the right lines of enquiry?”. And they will either tell us “Yes, you’re spot on”, or “You need to go back and look at this”. And that is really how we ensure that our products and our reports are insightful and impactful; they retain that robustness and they have the validity of being tested against those who are really in the know.
And finally, when you’ve done all of that, you’ve got to actually produce the end product.
Now it’s important to remember, when you’re producing the end product, not to think of it in terms of a physical document or a single event. But the end product is actually the result that you want to achieve. Have you changed the policy, have you informed the public, have you created yourselves – or set yourselves up – as a thought leader within your industry? That’s really what matters. If you think about it in that mindset from the very outset and you think about it at the end when you’re finishing it off, you will ensure that you will be successful or at least you will be able to judge it on merit.
So I hope that’s been useful for you. If you are interested in some of the reports that Crest Advisory has produced for our clients, please visit our website. If you’re interested in us maybe working with you or working for you, please send us an email as well.
Communications & Policy Analyst
Niall Blake-Knox is a Communications and Policy Analyst at Crest Advisory. Before joining Crest he completed a Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution and Governance from the University of Amsterdam.