Communicating refugee research insights


“No-one will read your thesis”.

PhD candidates are often told this during doctoral study. In response to this deflating statement, I bite my tongue. The reality is that only the motivated are going to read 80-100,000 words of our hard work. I am nearing the end of my PhD on refugee contact with their local communities in Australia, and I want my research to reach a wide audience. I intend to communicate my work in a variety of formats and it will remain a work in progress.

In this short piece, I would like to stimulate some reflection and situate why we need to and how we might achieve meaningful communication of research results.

Two key concerns underline the need to communicate our research outcomes. First, often refugees do not receive enough feedback after participating in academic research. We need to move on from what I call being a ‘research tourist’, where the researcher has an interesting time, but the participant receives little benefit. Here, the researcher becomes a vague memory, another consultation going nowhere, a stain that impacts on researchers who follow in the research tourist’s footprints. In my own research, a refugee participant took a photo of me and put it next to my mobile number, which I regarded as an act of agency after his past experience with telephone and face-to-face interviews with researchers. He could not recall their names, where they came from or what they did with the information he shared. After this interview, I altered the information sheet and inserted my photo on it, and always left a business card.

Second, researchers have become untethered to program and policy makers, and we need to reinvigorate this contact, so our insights can be considered and put into practice. This does not mean that program and policy makers must take up our recommendations, but it does mean respectful engagement. Consider who might be interested in your research and this might include bureaucrats, peak body organisations, managers in settlement services and program coordinators.

We must speak truth to power in innovative ways.

To address these two concerns, we need to consider more effectively communicating our findings. In my research, I am considering the following ways of disseminating my results to refugees:

  • Developing short videos in community languages to reach refugee populations.
  • Sending a one-page factsheet in community languages to participants and refugee community organisations.
  • Using visual storyboard images for refugees not literate in their own language or English.
  • Informal discussions with participants and community informants. I will be returning to community centres and English classes where I conducted ethnographic research to give feedback on my findings.

In 2017, at the Research for Asylum Seekers conference, I asked Dr Tram Nguyen from Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub how researchers could assist practice and policy. She emphasized that it is crucial to report back to the practitioners and tell them what we have found. In relation to practice and policy-making, the following ways can reach the policy and practice audience:

  • Attending Interagency groups and giving verbal briefings.
  • Sending work-in-progress for comment to relevant people and passing on interesting references and face-to-face briefings.
  • Writing short practical reports for program makers to put results into action.
  • Journal articles. This is an important way to communicate and add to practice wisdom.
  • Blogs. Writing or contributing to blogs like this one. Early in my research I started a blog http://refugeementoring.com/ and found that many people read it to gather more information about my research. The challenge is posting regularly.
  • Presenting at relevant conferences, and not just the academic ones.
  • Contributing to local and national media and online media such as The Conversation.

The bottom line is making a commitment to move from passive to active dissemination of research results, so we can challenge the myth of the thesis gathering dust on a virtual or real bookshelf. People will read your research, but it needs to be communicated in accessible formats.

Do you have any ideas about this? I would love to hear your experiences, particularly about communicating results for refugees with low English ability. How do you communicate your results?

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