Communication Research

Westat is recognized for the rigor of its research and evaluation studies. We use this expertise to guide the entire communications life cycle. Our methods include initial formative research, which may include stakeholder interviews and focus groups to inform the development of communication products and strategies, web panels to experimentally test the effectiveness of individual messages and materials with target audiences, and population-based surveys to assess the impact of national campaigns on knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

Our evaluation methods include both process and outcome evaluations. Process evaluation is designed to monitor program activities during implementation and guide decisions about potential changes in strategy as a program matures. Outcome or impact evaluation allows program planners to measure program impact, describe successes, document lessons learned, demonstrate accountability, and advance the state of knowledge.

Case Studies

Formative Research

In-depth Interviews. As part of a multi-phase formative research project for the Immunization Safety Office at CDC, we completed in-depth interviews using a series of clinical scenarios to understand clinicians' knowledge, beliefs, decisionmaking, and reporting practices regarding vaccine adverse events. Findings from this study will be used to guide communication strategies to improve clinician reporting to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.

Risk Communication. To develop risk communication framing of messages to explain complex environmental health issues such as chemical exposure data and health effects of climate change for a wide range of nonscientific audiences (policymakers, Congressional staff, mothers of young children, and emerging green consumers), Westat conducted formative research that integrated both primary and secondary data. This included a comprehensive literature review, media analysis, audience segmentation and audience profiling, expert panels, focus groups, and a case study analysis.

Materials Testing. To assess the effectiveness and appeal of different communication materials and messages around congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections, Westat is conducting a survey with members of an existing national web panel. Findings from the survey will provide insights about the relative appeal and impact of two different CMV communication materials on target audience knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intention.


VERBTM. It's What You Do. Westat has pioneered methods for assessing exposure to behavior change communication campaigns. For the Congressionally mandated outcome evaluation of CDC's VERBTM campaign, which aimed to increase physical activity among children, Westat conducted a national RDD survey of nearly 8,000 parent-youth dyads in four longitudinal panels and one cross sectional sample, oversampling in high dose communities. We were able to demonstrate increased physical activity as a result of exposure to the campaign and detect dose-response effects, using propensity scoring for confounder control. Findings from this evaluation were published in over a dozen peer-reviewed publications.

BOM. As part of its efforts to reduce teen dating violence, the Blue Shield of California Foundation created Boss of Me, an intervention that empowers 14–18 year-old teens through new media tools to build healthy relationships and defuse conflicts. Westat developed a 7-point methodology to evaluate the impact of this social media campaign and used the evaluation findings to develop best practices for future youth-targeted social marketing campaigns.

EX Smoking Cessation Campaign. We conducted an outcome evaluation for the American Legacy Foundation's EX smoking cessation public education campaign. Our primary evaluation tool was a longitudinal RDD telephone survey of current smokers aged 18–49 in eight designated market areas (DMAs). To guide future media efforts, two DMAs received a "higher dose" of advertising than the others. The evaluation design permitted comparison of high- and lower-dose DMAs.

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