Increasing the National Science Foundation’s Reach and Impact

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Increasing the National Science Foundation’s Reach and Impact

Posted on 12.17.22

NCSES directs surveys and produces 30 annual reports and wants to expand its reach

As one of 13 essential federal statistical agencies, NCSES conducts surveys and produces annual reports and other content that provide valuable information to practitioners, researchers, policymakers and members of the public. NCSES’ most extensive reports include National Patterns of R&D Resources (NatPat), Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities and Women, and Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering (WMPD).

These reports contain important data that NCSES wants to share with wider audiences and increase awareness of within its stakeholder base, including policymakers, academics, researchers and other professionals interested in research and development. Additionally, NCSES produces a wealth of materials to share data insights, including smaller reports and one-pagers. However, many of these reports are dense and challenging to understand, even for industry professionals.

The agency wanted to make its data and high-level information more user friendly and appealing to new audiences. For instance, students determining where to go to college could use the NatPat report to see which colleges are investing in career areas they are considering.

To realize these goals, NCSES partnered with Aptive to perform audits, access capabilities and make data-informed recommendations for improvements that would increase awareness and relevancy of its reports and other materials.


Reimagining reports and providing strategic communication support

Aptive brought a team of industry professionals from diverse backgrounds to the project. With expertise in project management, design and strategic communications, the team was prepared to apply their expertise and talent to address NCSES’ challenge.

SWOT Analysis and Stakeholder Interviews

The first step to improving NCSES’ impact was determining what was and was not working well. Aptive analyzed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) for each NCSES initiative. This robust research process involved interviews with internal and external stakeholders and translating responses into codified data highlighting significant trends.

The SWOT analysis revealed stakeholders across the board used words like “authoritative,” “high value” and “comprehensive” to describe NCSES’ top publications. However, they used words like “dense” and “complicated” to describe the publications’ weaknesses. These insights provided a foundation for reimagining the publications.

NCSES Publication Makeover

NCSES wanted readers to feel they’ve found a valuable and reliable resource they would recommend to friends and colleagues. Aptive established new creative designs for NCSES publications and other materials that broke down word walls, incorporated strong visuals and put statistics into bullet points for easier readability. The team also reimagined the user interface on the NCSES website to make content more digestible for wider audiences.

NCSES’ goal was to help readers make evidence-based decisions using its data through a more engaging visual and information display. To accompany the redesigned publications, Aptive also supported NCSES in developing outreach plans to promote them.

Communications Strategy and Implementation

Before NCSES could reveal its reimagined publications and other improvements, it needed a strong communications strategy. Aptive and NCSES reviewed current communications strategies and activities and made recommendations and improvements, including interagency communication. Part of NCSES’ effective communications strategy is outreach. To this end, Aptive and NCSES developed and distributed outreach content and materials through different mediums across a variety of platforms. To support outreach and communications strategies, Aptive supported NCSES individual and group training and staff coordination efforts. To track the success of NCSES’ communications strategy, the NCSES team uses Google Analytics to monitor communications metrics.


Expanding NCSES’ impact and creative redesign options

NCSES has a new look and feel for its high-profile annual reports and other materials that communicate critical, thoroughly vetted data to a broader range of audiences through accessible methods.

Aptive developed two video series for the agency and various valuable resources on research and development and science and engineering statistics. The agency’s explainer video was fondly nicknamed NCSES’ “Superbowl commercial” and was received with great excitement and enthusiasm.

The team created a Hermes Award-winning one-pager series highlighting NCSES’ special reports and areas of interest, such as:

  • Research and Development Tracking and Expenditure
  • Women Minorities and Persons with Disabilities and STEM
  • National Patterns of Research and Development Expenditure
  • Survey series explainer

These one-pagers follow the same fresh branding as the high-profile publications, creating a cohesive brand identity and making them easier to understand. The documents circulate on the NCSES website and social media pages, in newsletters and at conferences. One of these one-pagers was so well received that NCSES wanted to write a press release to announce its availability.