Theory and practice

Considering how to communicate your research or engage others with the latest science, social science or humanities research? This book explores new and emerging approaches to engaging people with research, placing these in the wider context of research communication. Split into three sections, Creative Research Communication explores the historical routes and current drivers for public engagement, before moving on to explore practical approaches and finally discussing ethical issues and the ways in which research communication can contribute to research impact.

Starting from the premise that researchers can and ought to participate in the public sphere, this book provides practical guidance and advice on contributing to political discourse and policymaking, as well as engaging the public where they are (whether that is at the theatre, at a music festival or on social media). By considering the plurality of publics and their diverse needs and interests, it is quite possible to find a communications niche that neither offers up bite-sized chunks of research, nor conceptualises the public as lacking the capacity to consider the myriad of issues raised by research, but explains and considers thoughtfully the value of research endeavours and their potential benefits to society.

It’s time for researchers to move away from one-size fits all, and embrace opportunities for creative approaches to research communication. This book argues for a move away from metrics and tick box approaches and towards approaches that work for you, as an individual researcher, in the context of your own discipline and interests.

Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Internationally public engagement and communication has become an important aspect of research and policymaking, allowing research establishments, and their researchers, to explore public perspectives on their work as well as providing access to research findings to wider publics. Alongside this, a considerable research communication and public engagement community has emerged, who are interested not only in the design, techniques and methods for research communication and engagement but also approaches to communicate creatively and evaluate the impact of such work. Setting the scene for later chapters, this introduction discusses the evolution of science communication, public engagement and calls for a re-emergence public disciplines and intellectuals before critically unpacking what it means to be creative.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Communicating your research can feel like a new discovery, many of the researchers we meet have found their passion to engage and discuss their subject matter has emerged as a mainly solo pursuit, perhaps inspired by a passionate colleague, favourite television programme or an exhibition visit that occurred by chance along the way. This can leave many researchers unaware that the communication and engagement of research has been a longstanding issue within research professions. This chapter explores the history of research communication from research professionalisation, to the creation of learned societies and public lectures, the role of museums and exhibitions, covering almost 400 years of notable research communication activities and setting the scene for more recent developments which are covered in the remainder of the book.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

The potential audiences for research communication are many and varied, including those with personal and professional interests. We consider the variety of people your research communication might be aimed at in this chapter and introduce concepts including audience segmentation, behaviour change and ‘nudging’ and how they are being used. We will consider these from a critical perspective, how they can be a tool to engage some, but potentially discriminate against others, and how they can be of use practically to readers. Finally, the chapter discusses how certain people can be overlooked in research communication processes and considerations you might make around this as a research communicator.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

This chapter introduces readers to opportunities for face-to-face communication and engagement activities. It covers key approaches including participation in the research process, moving through to events and activities you might be involved in, including festivals, cafes, talks, lectures, at generic venues, and in museums, science centres and galleries. The chapter draws on examples from contemporary movements, for instance recent examples of the use of comedy in communication, the continuing popularity of Café Scientifique, and how face-to-face events are being used in research processes. It considers why, in today’s technological and knowledge driven society, there is still a role for face-to-face communication

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Although a number of funders are now actively encouraging collaboration between artists and researchers, this is not a new field. Artists have appropriated technological developments for hundreds of years (if not longer), and there are challenging examples today of Bio-Art, where artists use tools, such as genetic engineering to create living artworks. What is new is the ways that researchers are now becoming involved as co-creators in artistic projects. With this in mind, the chapter explores audiences for the arts, before moving on to discuss examples of the ways that artists and researchers might work together. We consider issues around collaborative working, before briefly discussing the potential impact of artistic approaches to public engagement.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

With rapid changes in technology, the opportunities for digital communication are rapidly changing, as are audiences. The chapter explores current audiences and the ways that they use digital tools before moving on to consider how researchers might engage with these audiences, whether local or international. The chapter explores digital projects from the point of view of interactivity and interaction, and asking the research communicator to consider both their own interests and constraints as well as those of their audience, before moving on to look specifically at video projects, digital storytelling, games and apps.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Social media provide a host of opportunities for research communicators. From pithy microblogs, such as Twitter, to more in depth personal blogs, and for those seeking more interaction, opportunities to interact with followers on Facebook. The chapter briefly considers traditional media, pointing those interested to useful resources before moving on to explore what a digital profile is. In this context, we explore the challenge of choosing tools wisely in an environment where your personal and professional lives can easily merge. The chapter then considers blogs, Facebook and similar sites, and the virtual world Second Life through the lens of media richness and social presence theories.

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Many of the approaches to engagement through which researchers seek to consider their work have emerged from democratic framings of participation and such settings are explored within this chapter, as context for researchers keen to use such approaches, along with the citizens’ role in such negotiations. The chapter considers why deliberative approaches might appeal to the research communicator, before discussing in depth public engagement and what this can involve in research communication contexts. The chapter also considers the role of communication and engagement within policymaking processes, and the part which researchers may or may not wish to play in it.

in Creative research communication
Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

In this final practical chapter, we explore the ways that citizens can participate in the research process as researchers. We divide these participative projects into two categories: those projects that are largely institutionally led and whose primary purpose is to further research goals, and those which are often community led and seek to address community research needs. In this context we consider what has become known as ‘citizen science’, though it involve humanities, social science and health research as well as natural science approaches, and why people participate in these projects. The chapter then moves on to consider citizen driven projects, including the open source movement, hackspaces, maker faires and repair cafes.

in Creative research communication