One of the central themes in my work (See my proposal for linking science to practice) has been to champion the linking of research, news, and outreach activities in order to connect all these activities in a more synchronous manner.
This past week I found this example based on a research study conducted at the University of Michigan.
In this news release about a study regarding marital conflict there was a link to a website inviting readers to compare their own personal ways of resolving conflict with those of the participants in the study. If you click on this link you are taken to a brief survey that includes a series of questions that appear to be typical questions one would find in marital conflict instrument. After completing the questions, your responses are compared to the "average" responses by survey participants. In the final screen you are also given a variety of referral sources for counseling and other types of help.
The good part of this work is that the this is an interesting way to engage readers in exploring these ideas a little further and also linking them to potential types of help. But there are also substantial limits to this. First, the results that you are provided are not very easy to comprehend unless you are used to reading scientific tables. These results could be provided in a more comprehensible way that indicated in words or with other visual aides that explained the meaning of the results. I am sure that the scientists were reluctant to provide too much "explanation" because of genuine concerns about using a brief tool such as this for "diagnostic" purposes. This is an important consideration, but these results could still be presented in a more insightful way. The other problem is that the only "advice" that is offered by this quiz is counseling. Surely most couples who are seeking insight and/or help do not need this level of intervention. The "help" offered at this point in the quiz/activity could have included self-help books on marriage, links to appropriate websites and other material that addresses couple relationships, etc. In my "perfect" world of linking research and outreach, I would recommend that the authors of the study and/or their colleagues produce some useful activities and/or resources based on their research and professional experiences.
Overall, this is a good step in the right direction for taking more advantage of the distribution of scientific information to the public. This takes it beyond the mere "announcement" of a set of findings and invites the public to explore the ideas more deeply and in this case, apply it to their own personal lives.