How can you share your findings for maximum impact? We have created some reporting templates to help you take your research to action.
There are many ways in which applied research on social media & elections can have an impact. Whether you want to target policy-makers within your country or simply raise awareness of the risks of disinformation to citizens, some choices need to be taken into consideration. By defining what you are trying to achieve, it is easier to identify your primary audience and the format of your reporting.
This question will impact:
- How to share your findings (privately or publicly)
- The format of a successful report
- Frequency of reporting
- Possible outreach activities
Depending on your organizational mandate, you may decide to share your findings privately to maintain a low-profile and avoid excessive media attention. In this case, there are a number of steps that you can take.
Make an impact in private:
- Share findings with authorities to assess electoral violations (if appropriate and safe)
- Share findings with social media company representatives directly (contact via email)
- Support investigations on human rights violations (when monitoring hate speech)
- Share findings with policy-makers to inform legislative debates
On the other hand, you might want to share your findings publically with policy-makers and citizens. If so, you can publish regular reports and consider conducting outreach activities.
Make an impact in public:
- Publish regular reports to track developments of social media manipulation around elections
- Collaborate with news organizations to publish your findings and reach more audiences
- Share findings with international media outlets
- Conduct outreach activities such as trainings and workshops to present your findings to appropriate audiences
- Collaborate with think tanks and academia to strengthen research
Considering your audience, your will want to tailor your report accordingly. Successful reporting will address the intended audience in a concise manner.
Most likely your report will be directed to a non-technical audience interested in the impact of social media in elections. As a result, findings should be explained in language that a broader audience can understand. You can also consider publishing one-pagers with your most important findings to target a policymaking audience with data visualizations. Most importantly, remember to prioritize your findings and tailor your recommendations specifically to your stakeholder audience. Your report should be easy to read but also methodologically transparent to ensure the consistency of your results.
- Use language that a broader, non-technical audience can understand
- Consider publishing a short and long-form report for more and less technical audiences
- Prioritize your findings and explain why they matter
- Include specific recommendations shaped to your audience
- Avoid a long, general introduction re-capping “the problem” non-specific to your context
- Your methodology should be transparent and accurate but not overly technical
- Include a codebook in your appendix so your results are replicable
Organizations new to SMM should keep in mind that the data analysis process is time-consuming. New teams should think twice before committing to a tight public reporting schedule (e.g. weekly) and assess resources and capacity.
- Assess resources available and set a realistic reporting schedule
- Make sure you leave a buffer in your schedule in the case you run into hiccups with your data
DRI’s recommended reporting schedule during elections:
1. A risk-assessment prior to the election
2. A short report before the election on the campaign to date
3. A brief report several days after the election while media attention is high
4. An in-depth report a month following the election (max. 15 pages)
If you have programming knowledge, a good idea is to create a dashboard where the data can be updated frequently (weekly). Based on the data from pre-established accounts that are being monitored, it is easier to draft more frequent insights to be used in weekly updates.
Think about planning potential activities to engage relevant stakeholders at the beginning of your project. Getting in touch early with other stakeholders may help you improve the quality of your work. Maybe you will get new ideas for what to monitor and prevent overlap with other projects to maximize the overall impact.
- Get in touch early and have a communication strategy
- Collaborate with media to publish your findings to reach a wider audience
- Ask your CSO network to share your findings
- Invite relevant stakeholders to an event to discuss your findings
- Create an interactive dashboard in addition to your report
- Discuss results with similar initiatives to learn new research angles and techniques
Traditional election observers usually publish preliminary findings shortly after voting followed by a more detailed report months later. They want to avoid becoming part of the campaign discussion, which would make them a part of the process they observe. Additionally, a comprehensive assessment of the full electoral process prevents partial findings from becoming obsolete from one day to the next.
In the case of social media monitoring, reports exposing disinformation campaigns, foreign interference or incitement to violence may actually help prevent issues before an election occurs. As a result, it may make sense to issue interim reports prior to elections and a more in-depth report following an election. When publishing before an election, organizations should be prepared to join the political debate.
Organisations may instead inform authorities (where appropriate) and tech companies of their findings without going public. This may help CSOs steer a middle course between silence and joining the political debate. These decisions need to be ultimately made by each organisation based on its mandate and the national context.
- Consider the pros and cons of reporting before vs. after the election
- Consider what is the impact you wish to have before
- Bear in mind any existing electoral legislation that may be relevant prior to conducting your research – in many countries there may be restrictions about electoral related publications prior to the voting day.