Interaction plan – What’s the point and how to do it?

Creating an interaction plan for your research project may seem challenging and overly time consuming. Why is it so important? Here are some key points on the value of an interaction plan and how to get started.

An interaction plan is not a communications plan

An interaction plan differs from a communications plan in how the stakeholders of the research project are taken into consideration. Communicating about research usually refers to a one-way model of communication in which information is poured over stakeholders.

An interaction plan views research communication in a broader sense. It entails the idea of interacting with the project’s stakeholders in a way that allows them to give feedback and reflect on the information received.

Different stakeholders and the impact research results might have on them should be identified in the interaction plan and involved in the development of the project.

“Interaction between the research project and its stakeholders should start right away when the interaction plan is created. Developing and planning the project together is important”, says Tiina Petänen, Senior science advisor at the Academy of Finland.

Planning your project’s interaction is necessary for funding

Many research funding institutions require for a research project to have a thorough interaction plan for it to receive funding.

At the Academy of Finland, SRC funding (Strategic Research Council) is granted for high quality research projects that strive to produce accessible knowledge that supports decision-making. To reach this goal it is crucial to know why research is conducted, who benefits from it, and when to interact about it along the way.

“Interaction plan is just as important as the scientific part of the research project. You have to express clearly what you pursue with your research, so the grant assessors do not have to guess it”, says Tiina Petänen.

The interaction plan should be constructed and executed alongside with the research plan itself. By doing so you make sure interaction is always up to date and regular.

Interaction plan helps to direct your research

Research should have two functions. In addition to having a scientific impact research should be societally effective and relevant. Research should be conducted to answer a need, not only for the sake of research. A well-thought interaction plan helps to recognize the meaning behind what you do.

Research director Marjut Jyrkinen of the WeAll – Social and Economical Sustainability of Future Working Life Consortium, a project that received SRC funding from the Academy of Finland, finds planning research interaction rewarding.

“It forces you to think about your research and its meaning in a new way. You need to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and whom you do the work for”, Marjut Jyrkinen says.

“Theoretical and societal contributions are both important. The interaction plan explicates the meaningfulness of your research.”

Jyrkinen does not believe in the division between purely scientific and societally influential research. Both aspects should be present at all times in all research.

“Research is not supposed to be its own limited world. There are always choices a researcher has to make. Understanding why you choose a certain research theme and why it is important through drafting an interaction plan is very useful.”

Be concrete and specific

So how do you get started? Tiina Petänen advises researchers to start by thinking to whom and why the research is conducted. The intention to interact actively with stakeholders throughout the project and even after it must be visible in the plan. Think about why, how and when interaction takes place.

The key is to be concrete and specific. Remember to inform what the means and aims of your research are and list the available resources. How much time and money is needed for the research? What kind of know-how is required?

“Sufficient resourcing is important. About ten percent of received research funding should go into interaction. You also have to be able to deliver what you promise in the plan”, Petänen says.

Making and working your interaction plan requires time and effort. You must take your stakeholders’ schedules and commitment into consideration as well as those of your own team.

“You have to be humble and appreciate that your stakeholders are spending their time to participate in your project. Listen to their ideas and thoughts. Exchanging knowledge and experiences can lead to discovering completely new paths”, says Marjut Jyrkinen.

If you find making your research interaction plan overwhelming, Tiina Petänen encourages to ask for help. The research services and communication personnels of universities can be useful resources. You can also contact funding institutions and research projects that have succeeded with their interaction plans and ask for advice.

If you need help with your interaction plan, you can sign up for the Impact Clinic organized by University of Helsinki.


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