National Survey Shows Human Service Providers’ Preferred Messengers, Channels, and Formats


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Research findings about child and family well-being have the potential to positively affect family outcomes—but only if human services leaders and practitioners know about these findings and can apply them to day-to-day practice. To reach these practitioners, we need to understand human service providers as recipients of information—from the messengers they find credible, to the social media channels that they use, to the mass media they consume. Those details allow us to plan strategic and effective communication campaigns about research. To that end, we conducted a survey of child, youth and family service providers across the U.S. to determine their attitudes about the value and use of research; their preferred formats and methods of delivery for information; which professional sources they most trust; and which communication channels they use.  




What We Did

A 65-question survey was circulated from the Fall of 2020 through the Spring of 2021. A total of 921 people participated in the survey, with 565 (61%) completing the entire instrument. Respondents resided in all 50 states, were age 22 to over 80, and were at all levels of their organizations, from caseworkers to state-level directors. Most respondents worked in state and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations, but self-employed, for-profit and federal agency workers were also represented 

What We Found

  • Attitudes about research: Human service providers broadly value research and report using research in their work. 
  • Most trusted messengers: The top three most trusted sources were all personal ones: a peer doing similar work; supervisor, trainer, or boss; field staff or direct providers. 
  • Preferred communication formats: Listening to a live speaker was the most appealing formatfollowed by video, webinars, and charts and graphs on a laptop or desktop computer.  
  • Social Media Use: The most popular social media channel was Facebook, followed by YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.  
  • Most used resources: The most used digital resources were website repositories of research and toolkits; online newsletters; and online academic publications. The most used print resource was books, and the most used audiovisual resource was webinars.  
  • News sources: National Public Radio was the most frequently cited news source. The New York Times was the most mentioned newspaper and more than 100 local newspapers were named in an open-ended response. 
  • Best formats for research: Human service providers want brief, top-line summaries and clear short instructions about how evidence applies to day-to-day practice.  

What It Means

Effective dissemination is key to ensuring that evidence is applied in practice, which is dependent on all the factors explored in this survey. When choosing messengers, focus first on personal influencers in the field, such as directors, supervisors, and trainers. Provide these messengers with materials to help them clearly communicate research findings to their staff and colleagues. Format messages so that findings are highlighted, understandable, and include clear and actionable takeaways for practice.  Use mass media, digital media, and social media to reinforce professional information about evidence.

Delivering persuasive messages from credible messengers in the most preferred channels and formats, repeatedly and over time, provides the level of dissemination needed for evidence to affect practice and, ultimately, outcomes for children and families. 


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Practice Bulletins

Mass media preferences Preferred messenger sources and formats

Recommended Citation
Randall, K., McMullen, M., & Morton, M. (2022). Disseminating research to youth and family service professionals: Results of a national survey. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.