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General Characteristics of Effective Dissemination and Utilization

By John D. Westbrook, PhD and Martha Boethel

Effective dissemination and utilization strategies are keys to conducting successful program improvement. The strategies suggested are reflective of those found to be effective through both research and field-based experience.

Components of Effective Dissemination Strategies

The one-way flow of written information and mechanical, "traditional" dissemination approaches have not proven to be effective in encouraging the adoption and implementation of new programs and strategies. NCDDR's experience and the literature concerning dissemination strategies that do work (see, for example Westbrook & Lumbley, 1990; Pollard, 1989; Pollard and Rood, 1989; Mace-Matluck, 1986) lead to the perceptions that to be effective, dissemination systems need the following characteristics:

Utilization is the Goal

The underlying reason to collect and disseminate information is to assure that it is used in reaching decisions, making changes, or taking other specific actions designed to improve programs. That is, the goal of dissemination is utilization, or implementation of effective program strategies. Facilitating the utilization of information is a complex process; many barriers exist, both in steps necessary for implementation and in the skills, attitudes, and awareness levels of people and organizations. Research demonstrates that the following factors are related to achieving the utilization of information:

A Philosophical Framework for Dissemination and Utilization

Experience and literature support the need for a philosophical or conceptual framework for dissemination and utilization processes. The following major elements apply to the work of the NCDDR with NIDRR grantees:

  1. Dissemination is far more than the simple distribution of paper or products; it is a process requiring a careful match among (a) the creation of products or knowledge, and the context of that creation, (b) the target audiences, and (c) the content, media, formats, and language used in getting the outcomes into the hands (and minds) of those target audiences (see Exhibit 4).
  2. The goal of all dissemination should be utilization. Utilization may mean different things to different members of a target audience; in some cases, it may mean rejection of a product or research finding. The critical element of utilization is that the research outcome must be critically and thoroughly digested, and the individual must fit the new information with her or his prior understandings and experience.
  3. One of the most effective ways to increase utilization - and to improve the quality and relevance of research - is to involve potential users in planning and implementation of the research design itself.
  4. Effective dissemination and utilization require an understanding of the change process.
  5. Effective dissemination is critically linked to its timeliness and comprehensiveness.
  6. Effective dissemination of disability research requires careful planning and effort throughout the life of a research project.
  7. Dissemination is a process that requires ongoing support and personal intervention to achieve utilization.
  8. All NIDRR grantees share in the responsibility to disseminate their project results to all appropriate target audiences, and in accessible formats.

Dissemination Issues

The effective dissemination process is dependent upon and influenced by an array of environmental and individual user characteristics. Effectiveness requires the disseminator to be aware of how the user, source, content, context, and medium are configured and how they will directly influence utilization. Exhibit 1: Elements and Issues Related to the Dissemination Process describes major areas for consideration.

Technical Assistance as a Key to Utilization

As indicated above, information alone generally is not enough to assure that a new approach will be implemented successfully and in ways that meet the unique circumstances of each specific user. Technical assistance - in the form of consultations, specially tailored materials and information, training, and/or demonstrations - is usually needed to help adapt strategies and to address the barriers involved in the implementation process. Westbrook and Botterbusch (1989) have identified characteristics of technical assistance that promote the utilization of information. These characteristics include:


Effective dissemination and utilization efforts are not easy and mechanical. The effectiveness of these efforts depends upon the degree to which the disseminator tailors information to the end-user and recognizes that the use of such information usually requires the provision of assistance to successfully negotiate implementation.

Exhibit 1

Elements And Issues Related To The Dissemination Process







Backer, T.E. (June 1994) Readiness for change, educational innovations, and education reform. Final draft. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Baker, E.L. (1984). Can educational research inform educational practice? Yes! Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 453-455.

Blasiotti, E.L. (March 1994). Disseminating research information to multiple stakeholders. Knowledge Creation, Diffusion, Utilization, pp. 305-319.

Bogan, C.E. & English, M.J. (1994). Benchmarking for best practices: Winning through innovative adaptation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Carrillo, R., Lumbley, J., & Westbrook, J. (1984) Effective networking: The role of the consultant. Consultant. Vol. 3, No. 2.

Corbett, H., Dawson, J., & Firestone, W. (1984) School context and school change: Implications for effective planning. New York: Teachers College Press/Columbia University.

Corthel, D.W., & Smith, L. (October 1989). The provisions of technical assistance for vocational rehabilitation. Sixteenth Institute on Rehabilitation Issues. Menomonie, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Deal, T. (1984) Educational change: Revival tent, tinkertoys, jungle or carnival? Teachers College Record. pp. 124-137.

Edwards, L. (n.d.) Using knowledge and technology to improve the quality of life of people who have disabilities: A prosumer approach. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

Fullan, M. (1985) Change processes and strategies at the local level. The Elementary School Journal. 1/391.

Fullan, M. (1982) The meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press/Columbia University.

Fuhrman, S. (April 1994). Uniting producers and consumers: Challenges in creating and utilizing educational research and development. In Tomlinson & Tuijnman (eds.), Education research and reform: An international perspective (pp. 133-147). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Hall, G. and Hord, S. (1987) Change in schools: Facilitating the process. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Leung, P. (June 1992). Translation of knowledge into practice. In Walcott & Associates, NIDRR National CRP Panel Final Report. Washington, D.C.: Walcott & Associates.

Louis, K., Kell, D., Dentler, R., Corwin, R., & Harriott, R. (1984) Exchanging ideas: The communication and use of knowledge in educational settings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Abt Associates, Inc.

Mace-Matluck, B. (1986) Research-based strategies for bringing about school improvement. Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Pollard, J. (1989) Educational choice - thinking it through. INSIGHTS on educational policy and practice. No. 8 Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Pollard, J. & Rood, M. (1989) Design and development of an emerging-issues tracking system for state-level educational policy and decisionmakers. Paper presented at SIG/Futures Research and Strategic Planning Symposium of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, California.

University of Wisconsin-Stout (1989) The provisions of technical assistance for vocational rehabilitation. Menomonie, Wisconsin: Author.

U.S. Department of Education. (September 1994). ED can allocate special education funds more equitably. San Francisco: Regional Inspector General for Audit, Region IX.

U.S. Department of Education. (December 1994). Report for benchmarking subteam customer service team. Draft. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Westbrook, J. (1994) Promoting change through information dissemination and utilization. Regional Rehabilitation Exchange Update (Vol.2, No.1) Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Westbrook, J., Lumbley, J. (1990) Consumer-driven supported employment: A way to improve supported employment services and outcomes. Bulletin of the National Model for Supported Employment and Independent Living, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Austin, Texas: Spring 1990.

Westbrook, J., Botterbush, K. (1989) Characteristics of technical assistance in The provisions of technical assistance for vocational rehabilitation, 16th Institute for Rehabilitation Issues. Menomonie: University of Wisconsin.

NIDRR Project Number: H133A031402
Last Updated: Wednesday, 07 October 2009 at 01:43 PM.

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