I’ve been thinking about the role of the Pew Research Center* in the world, particularly in regard to how we communicate and disseminate our work.

Here is my idea:

We are both a mirror and a window.

We hold up a mirror to society, reflecting back the current state of all sorts of things, like marriageimmigrationsocial media, and religion. We don’t tell you what to do about any aspect of it. We just want you to see yourself as you really are.

We also provide a window into other people’s lives and opinions. You may not be Catholic, but you may want to better understand the news about the Pope’s resignation. You may be interested in what people in China think about their country’s role in the world. You may be curious about how much Americans know about current events or what the deal is with Millenials. We’ve got you covered.

In my own work, I have, for example, held up a mirror to people living with rare conditions. Some have told me it’s a good likeness and has helped them to better understand their situation and use of online resources. Other people have told me that the report, Peer-to-peer Healthcare, is a window into a world they hadn’t ever visited, but one they are now learning from. Both groups have thanked me for the new vocabulary and data we used to describe this phenomenon.

I have also found that my research improves the more I listen and the less I ask (a turn-around for a survey researcher, but not for an anthropologist). In listening, and watching, I’ve been humbled by people’s reactions to and usage of our findings.

For example, the most popular pages on our site, week in/week out, are the tip sheets we created about mobile and social networking. It is clear from the traffic logs that people sometimes just want the facts, no introduction, no explanation, no conclusion.

Further evidence for “just give me the facts” is found on Twitter, where thousands of people follow and re-tweet data points highlighted every day by @pewinternet@pewresearch and affiliated accounts. I’m confident that more people read my tweets than read my reports.

But sometimes people want to be