Plotting to get the word out: Gender and land research

Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Agnes Quisumbing are International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) researchers closely working with PIM on various topics including property rights and gender. In this blog, they share their experience and ideas about best ways to publicize results of scientific research. 

A colleague asked us recently about the “secret” behind IFPRI’s strategy to share its work on gender and land.  She mentioned that her colleagues had seen, and also heard from others, that the work got a lot of visibility and were wondering what the publication strategy was. 

We thought a bit about this—and realized that the answer lay beyond a “publication strategy”—it was a communications strategy that involved formal (discussion papers, journal articles, conference presentations) as well as informal approaches (social media, blogs, and, very importantly, personal networking), but one that was anchored in many, many years of research.

Our work on gender and property rights (including, but not limited to land) began with an e-conference on gender and property rights in 1995.  These were the early days of electronic collaboration (hard copy papers were mailed out, all postings were done by email—there were no blogs or websites then), and the e-conference culminated in a special issue of World Development that was published in 1996.

Fast forward to 2015, twenty years later, when our work on gender and land myths in Africa was prepared for a workshop in 2012, released as a discussion paper in 2013, presented in conferences and featured in blogs in 2014, and published as a journal article in Agricultural Economics and cited in the Washington Post in 2015.  Even before the work was out in print, it had already circulated in the virtual world—research communications has changed a lot!


The paper “Policy reform toward gender equality in Ethiopia: Little by little the egg begins to walk”, by Neha Kumar and Agnes Quisumbing, was first published as an IFPRI discussion paper in 2012 and later as an article in World Development in 2015. Both were published open access, which helped increase the paper’s accessibility, discoverability, and re-use (citation). The Altmetric score means that the paper ranks in the 91st percentile of the 96,824 articles tracked by Altmetric, with one of the highest scores of any article ever published in World Development (#26 of 659 articles).

This has prompted an online discussion among our team and with our great colleagues in IFPRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management division (special thanks to Tamar Abrams and Luz Marina Alvare).  So here are some thoughts about how to communicate one’s research effectively.

  • Do good research.
    • While bad research also gets lots of attention, in the long run, thorough, evidence-based research builds a reputation and following.  (If you do bad research, you may have publicity in the short run, but the fact checkers will find you and call you out!)
  • Talk to your communications division early to think about who you want to reach, and the best strategies for reaching them.  Identifying your audiences – and what you want them to think, feel or do – is key to success.
    • Ask your communications/knowledge management division how they can help. Their social media networks are surely broader than your personal ones and they may be able to reach key audiences much easier than you. They would likely be happy to work in partnership with you on promoting your work.
  • Present the research early and often—during and after the research. 
    • Within the institute first for feedback (and to let your colleagues know so they can mention it to others)
    • With national collaborators at their institutes or at meetings in their country.  This is important because we owe it to the countries where we collected the info, for feedback and validation of the work, and for it to have impact.
    • At key conferences in the field.  For example, for our gender and land work, we hit both “gender” meetings and “land” meetings: the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, the International Association for Study of the Commons, Feminist Economics meetings, and other professional association meetings.  Offer to present at donor organizations who paid for the research.
    • In response to invitations from universities, or other specialized conferences (this is where reputation becomes important).
  • When you have presentations, see if they can be posted online somewhere.
  • Publish a working paper or discussion paper as open access when it is in good shape and can pass basic external review.
    • Some university professors put out things very early, with no review, to get feedback, but we find that the IFPRI Discussion Papers or CAPRi Working Papers are going to be cited, especially by those who don’t have access to libraries with journal subscriptions, so we want to make sure they are sound before the work goes out.
  • When it is out in discussion paper form, circulate the announcement with your networks.
    • For our gender and land work, we use the CAPRi listserv, the Gender and Food Policy blog (that we host), the CGIAR Gender & Agriculture Research Network, and the Gender Agriculture Partnership hosted by GCARD
    • If you don’t have a critical mass of researchers in your field, create your own virtual network with researchers with whom to exchange ideas. Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) did so with the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange blog and workshops, and Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) created the EnGendering Data blog to foster a community of practice around methods for collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data.
    • Through the institutional repository records it will appear in the Social Research Network (SSRN), Google Scholar, Mendeley and Repec among other academic sources.  Those, in turn, are picked up by other listservs and are then often cross-posted.
    • Look for the lists and blogs that people in your field read. Other possibilities are Eldis, Bridge, Devex, etc.
  • Be sure to refer to the publicly available data sets that you use in your paper, and provide the links.
    • This will increase visibility of your data (and get your datasets cited) as well as of your work, if other researchers analyze the data too.  So much data, too little time--there is no point in hoarding or being selfish about one’s data. It is better to be cited than to just sit on the data.
  • Consider guest blogs on key blogs that the people you want to know about your research will read.
  • Shortly after submitting the discussion paper, submit to a journal.
    • Pick one that the audience you want to reach reads, but keep in mind that some journals do not accept papers that were published as working papers.
    • If you want to reach a gender audience, go for a gender journal, but if you want fisheries people to think about gender, go to a fisheries journal, or an interdisciplinary journal.
    • Better yet, target different pieces of the research to different journals (but don’t recycle so much that people think that you are just self-plagiarizing).
  • Prioritize open access.
    • Either pick an open access journal, or pay for open access.  If this is not possible, make sure your library has a copy and the metadata record to provide document delivery to those with no access.
  • Make sure to contact your library/KM folks to place your publications in open institutional repositories, tagged properly, with metadata that interlinks to other research products related to the work being added.
    • Make sure your library gets a copy to be able to provide document delivery in case in it is not posted in an open access journal. This will increase the discoverability, accessibility and reusability bringing more citations to your research work.
  • Publicize the journal article when it’s out.
    • Tweet like crazy. Tweet entire sentences from the article. Tweet photos and tables. Use great hashtags. Post on Facebook and LinkedIn.
    • Don’t forget to tell your communications colleagues that the paper is out! Make sure the paper DOI is included in the posts and when using it in citations.
  • If you have a lot of material on a common project, develop a micro-site for it on the web.
    • For the GAAP project, we set up early on to write about what the project was about, then as we developed products (our conceptual framework, component projects, toolkit of methods, and then the outputs from component projects and synthesis) we added these to the site.
    • For WEAI we have the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Resource Center  with all publications, training materials, presentations, datsets, even Stata program files.  You can just point people to that site to find everything.
  • Link the microsite, or individual publications, to your institute’s gender page.
    • The IFPRI Gender Page is the gateway for gender research at IFPRI. It includes links to project microsites, blogs, publications, datasets, and a gender toolbox organized by theme.
  • Don’t stop promoting the article just because time has passed. If there is a relevant world event or conference related to your article, start up the social media campaign…again!

Photo: Increasing Production via Land Certificates, by Anthony Piaskowy/USAID

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