Learn more about the Association for Cultural Economics International’s annual conference through the Center for Cultural Affairs.
Academic research can influence laws, how organizations and communities operate, and the decisions people make each day. But that only happens if the research is relevant and relatable, connecting people to the topic in ways they understand.
Pamela Guerrero, an O’Neill MPA candidate, admits that translating complex research studies or policy into everyday language can be difficult.
“I can be really focused on specific details that may matter to me but don’t matter to anyone else,” she says laughing. “Finding that balance between too much information and the information that’s relevant to the audience is where I struggle.”
That’s why an opportunity from the Center for Cultural Affairs caught her attention. It was a short-term fellowship focused on learning to translate research and make the information accessible to everyone.
“Translating research requires that you both understand the source material and can distill it in ways that can be effectively communicated to broad audiences,” explains CCA Faculty Director and Paul H. O’Neill Professor Doug Noonan.
To help teach students those skills, Noonan and the CCA team secured a grant that provided funding for 10 fellowships on the IUPUI and Bloomington campuses to help them learn more about diversity and accessibility in arts and culture.
As part of the fellowship, students attended a two-hour session on translating research. Guerrero says one of her biggest takeaways was understanding that different audiences can view the same information very differently.
“We can all see that a research article may be a complex academic topic, but that same article can mean so many different things to different people, based on who they are, what they do, and where they’re from,” she says.
The session also focused on the unique needs each audience type has when it comes to learning about research.
“Journalists, for example, normally have heavy workloads and really short timelines,” she explains. “They need the information quickly. They also have to consider whether their editors will like it and whether the story will get clicks online.”
After the training session, the fellows each selected a research topic to review. They’re now working to create unique ways to showcase that information to a new audience as CCA hosts the Association for Cultural Economics International conference in Bloomington on June 27–30.
Guerrero was considering focusing her project on how Latin American countries use their cultural heritage as a primary driver for the tourism industry. The idea came from her home country of Ecuador, which relies on the economic tourism of its cultural heritage sites.
“A lot of our heritage sites are in designated UNESCO sites,” she says. “I’m interested in how cultural art plays into economic development in those areas.”
Noonan says the opportunity to research a topic and then convey the information to conference attendees will open doors for students during a large gathering of international scholars. It’s a chance for them to practice skills he says will extend well beyond the conference.
“Effective communication skills are vital in all sorts of careers,” he says. “Our fellows can use these skills to make scientifically informed policy choices. We can teach them what current research says and show them how to apply that knowledge now, but future decisions will depend on translating future research into practice. That’s where these skills will be most valuable to our students.”
Guerrero is already looking to do that in her work for Indiana’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
“It is really important to me to be relatable when I’m writing things,” she says. “I don’t ever want to come across as demeaning to people when I’m translating the information to them.”
She says she wants to focus on the people she works with and make sure they get the information they need on critical topics.
“Sometimes, people really only have a couple minutes to look at something, whether they’re a single mother or a public official, low income or middle income,” she says. “My ultimate desire is to make the information that impacts them relatable to their lives so they can make more informed decisions.”