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Section 7: Topic 3

Before/after polling

The third approach is more rigorous and relatively time-efficient, but it is expensive. You can commission polling companies to do a sample before and after the media featuring your research goes out. Polling data is typically used to assess changes in understanding and attitudes, but could also be used to assess whether viewers for intentions to act or perform specific actions suggested to them in the content they have engaged with. 

There are specialist polling companies that can target the viewers, listeners and readers of specific media outlets or programmes in a highly targeted way. For example, Prof Yamni Nigam from Swansea University had her research on maggot therapy featured in four episodes of the TV soap, Casualty, which has over 4 million weekly viewers. She commissioned a specialist TV polling company to find out what proportion of casualty viewers were aware of maggot therapy and its benefits for treating wounds that were resistant to antibiotics, and the extent to which they viewed maggot therapy as acceptable or disgusting. After the episodes aired, she had evidence of an increase in awareness and understanding of maggot therapy and a reduction in what she called the “yuk factor”. This was important for her, because she had already convinced clinicians to offer maggot therapy on the NHS but uptake by patients was low due to the disgust they felt towards the treatment. 

Alternatively, you might commission a generalist polling company to obtain a representative sample of the UK population or a particular target audience (e.g. demographic), to see what proportion engaged with the media you put out. For those who engaged with the media in question, you can ask how they responded to it, and for those who did not, you can get the polling company to provide them with the key messages and then probe for their response. For example, Newcastle University designed a before/after poll targeting a representative sample of the UK and German populations after media coverage of their research on the health benefits of organic milk coincided with a spike in organic milk sales across Europe. The polls were designed to be conducted a week after planned media work around research on the benefits of a range of organic foods. Respondents were asked whether they had bought organic food in the previous week, whether they had seen media reports about the health benefits of organic food, and if so, whether they thought these reports had influenced their purchasing decisions. Those who had not seen the media reports were given the key findings in a short summary based on the university press release, and were asked if they would be more likely to buy organic food on the basis of what they had heard. At the same time, sales of organic food were being tracked to see if there was a sales spike. This time, unlike the spike in organic milk sales, it would be possible to infer media coverage of the research as a major factor contributing to the increase in sales. 


While polling data might seem like an expensive approach, it may be worth the investment if there is an important enough impact claim that could be proven with the data. However, in addition to the cash, you need to have the foresight to plan your polls well in advance of the media coverage, and this is not always possible. 

Listen to Prof Nigam describe how she evidenced impact when Casualty featured her research.


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