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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 communicating creatively and evaluating the

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

This chapter will focus on ethics from a broad perspective, considering two main approaches. Firstly, the chapter will consider ethics from a communication and engagement standpoint, how to engage with participants ethically, incorporate informed consent procedures, consider any data that are collected, used and stored, give participants access to further information and follow any relevant ethical guidelines. Secondly, the chapter will explore wider questions regarding the ethics of communication and participation. Is communication about research just

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

Academics may be used to communicating their research findings to their peers, but when they become practitioners of communication and engagement they may not consider the need to communicate the success (or otherwise) of new or novel approaches to communication. Likewise, the practitioner community does not have the same drivers (publications are not metrics by which they are judged) to communicate findings from project evaluations or to synthesise best practice guidelines. As a result, the communication and engagement community are often criticised for

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

A crucial stage in any science communication activity is consideration of the groups with whom you will be communicating. The potential audiences for research communication are many and varied, including those with personal and professional interests. It is important to remember that people can have varying levels of interaction, from an audience member who is happy to come along and contribute quite passively, to a very active contributor who might be involved in shaping the direction of a research project as a whole. We will consider the variety of

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

In research communication there is a common rallying call encouraging academics to move out of the ivory tower. This concept revolves around the principle that ivory symbolises an impractical and privileged building material, whilst a tower implies a sense of physical, practical and linguistic isolation. The concept was first used in its modern sense to describe the academic community in the nineteenth century, to gently chastise academics on the basis not only of their communication but also of their perceived connectedness with the real world. Thus

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

The word ‘impact’ is a real buzz word in academic fields, to the extent that we questioned whether it was risky to title a chapter ‘impact’. The danger with popular terminology is that as swiftly as it comes into fashion, so too can it be disowned, but it is important to recognise that many of the issues bound up in ‘impact’ are not new to research communication. What does impact mean? If we start simply, the Oxford English Dictionary defines impact as ‘the effective action of one thing or person upon another; the effect of such action; influence

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 that their passion to engage and to 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 of research to others and their engagement with it has been a long-standing issue within research professions. The history of communicating research is

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

As we have discussed in previous chapters, there are a wide variety of opportunities to communicate with publics, but beyond these exist other scenarios for engagement, including engagement with policy frameworks, which can also have their challenges. As with communication with a public audience, doubts can arise as to how to access, convey and work with stakeholders who are focused on political issues of governance; but just as in work with publics, increasing awareness of policymakers’ needs, operational practices and access routes can assist

in Creative research communication
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Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp

repurposed materials. Web 2.0 technologies have made it possible for anyone to become a content producer, or what Bruns ( 2006 ) calls a ‘produser’, eliminating the need for a middleman or gatekeeper who traditionally mediates access to older, more expensive media and technologies (e.g. journalists or web designers). This has the advantage that researchers can now reach many potential publics directly by engaging in digital communication opportunities. It has the disadvantage that the digital space is becoming very crowded, and being heard amid the cacophony of

in Creative research communication