Study Guide: The Role of PR in Technology-Transfer Communications

June 3, 2019

[caia image/andy roberts]
[caia image/andy roberts]

The findings of formal research studies conducted at universities, governmental agencies and within the private sector offer many benefits to the world. They expand knowledge in disciplines of study and can lead to breakthrough developments for products, techniques and services in physical, social and health sciences and other fields.

What’s learned from research can immeasurably improve lives and livelihoods. Many of the advancements we enjoy today would not exist without knowledge gained through formal research.

In government and academia, disseminating the results of completed studies is managed through a process known as “technology transfer” (also referred to as “T2”). Through this process, whatever was learned, discovered or invented in a study is shared with relevant audiences — particularly with potential adaptors of those results and with researchers engaged in similar projects.

Research findings often are disseminated through peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals, and can take up to 18 months to be published. Such results are also shared through presentations delivered at conferences and seminars.

However, communicators can initiate and launch effective strategic communications programs that drive the success of a technology-transfer initiative to a wider, more general audience.

In today’s competitive business and academic environments, sharing research findings and the methodologies employed is essential. What was learned or proven can make systems operate safer and more efficiently, and advance or introduce new medical breakthroughs. Research findings also help secure further funding and legislative and public support so that relevant projects can continue.

Furthermore, some government funding sources now require inclusion of a technology-transfer plan within the request-for-proposal competitive bidding process.

The amount of money spent on formal research — and on technology transfer — is significant. According to a Feb. 9, 2018 article on the Research & Development Magazine website, the U.S. government invests some $135 billion every year to advance science and technology and thus develop breakthrough knowledge and new innovations. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of that investment is in technology transfer.

Guidelines for communicators

Technology-transfer communications comprise all aspects of a study — including how the project was conceived, the processes and tools used, and how its results were captured and analyzed to form conclusions. Here are guidelines communicators in the academic arena, corporate sector or outside agency industry can employ to build a framework for a successful technology-transfer communications program. Many of these principles are also employed in traditional strategic communications programs:

• Grasp the project’s challenge, scope and significance. For the layman, formal research projects can be intimidating and complex, their results daunting. To craft an effective communications plan, read as much of the report as possible and become conversant with all of its components. Some research reports are hundreds of pages long and include numerous charts and appendices, but most begin with an executive summary that outlines the nature of the research work, what was undertaken and why. Read the summary before delving further. 

Understanding a study’s methodology also helps you comprehend its structure. Identify the study’s key findings and results (generally summarized at the end of the report) and review them with the study’s principal investigator and other researchers. Make sure you’re fully versed in the study’s objectives before tackling your communications plan.

• Craft sound communications strategies. Strategies to guide technology-transfer communications should be determined by the methodology employed, the overall scope of work completed and the study’s key findings. Also, work to center the strategic direction on the relevance of the research in benefiting an industry or profession, along with society in general. 

When crafting your communications strategy, also consider the research team’s experience, reputation, accomplishments and background — as well as the standings of the principal investigator and colleagues within his or her field of study.

• Set realistic, broad-based communications goals. For example, one could be to inspire adaption of the study findings; another to enlist fellow researchers to continue exploring or expanding upon the scope of work. 

Other communications objectives might include making key audiences more aware of the value of the completed research, or inspiring businesses or agencies to implement its findings. Goals for technology-transfer communications should be realistic, attainable and measurable.

• Share the study’s findings through a news story. Write a strong headline with keywords related to the research, and no jargon. Post the story on the organization’s website with a link to the full report. Also post a separate project abstract that summarizes the study and lists its investigators, objectives and strategies.

Disseminate the story to trade, business and select general-interest media, as well as to advocacy, government and community groups. Share it on social media. You might also explore opportunities to give in-person presentations or webinars within the private sector and before governmental and nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit associations and academic departments.

Also secure interest in the research findings from a targeted industry or scholarly publication. Draft a bylined article for the researchers that focuses on key findings, challenges faced, subsequent research planned and unique methods employed.

A final thought about technology-transfer communications. Communicators must work together with the scholars and scientists who conducted the research; some may not be fully cognizant regarding communications plans, strategies and tactics, so be patient. 

Research will remain a critical component of business, medicine, economics and other aspects of modern society. Through strategic communications, compelling and newsworthy findings can be shared with a wider audience, inspiring dialogue and building further awareness. 

Edward M. Bury, APR

Edward M. Bury, APR, manages public affairs for the Urban Transportation Center, a research unit at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His key responsibility is executing strategic technology-transfer communications.

Email: edwardmbury at


Ryan Honeycutt says:

This is incredibly helpful and I would be interested in more stories like this that pertain to research and technology transfer comms. Especially in creating strategic communications strategies and campaigns .

June 4, 2019

Chris Ruys says:

We've known each other for many years, but I've never quite understood the scope of your work at UTC. Thanks for writing and sharing such an excellent article.

June 5, 2019

Edward Bury says:

Hello: Thanks for your thoughts and kind words. Please reach out if you'd like to discuss technology transfer communications in greater detail. This is a topic that has tremendous potential, and I maintain there will be a continued need to use effective public relations to advance technology transfer.

June 6, 2019

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