Post workshop / feeling overwhelmed by research communication

I feel like I may have created a bit of an impression that I actually know what research communication is and am really good at it. Let me put the record straight: that is not the case.

When I first set up the blog, I wanted to get a baseline for how well I have been communicating my research pre-blog so that in a year or two I can see if the blog has led to any improvements. So I sent out a Google Forms survey to friends and family with a couple of questions, for e.g.: where do I work; what does my job entail; what is my research about; what was I doing in the UK a couple of weeks ago.

The good news finding from my survey is that I can only improve…

Although friends and family are arguably not the primary audience I am trying to communicate my research to, they are a good place to start. Let’s face it, no one else is reading my blog yet!

I must admit, however, that thinking about who my primary audience is, is a little daunting. Largely  because they’re the same group of people that I need to use as research participants. My research around policy process – who influences policy, how is policy influenced, etc. – requires interviewing, working with, and critiquing policy makers, key stakeholders, and CSOs (Civil Society Organisations – what we now call NGOs I’m told). But these are the exact same people I need to communicate my findings to and who I hope will learn from my research. And let’s be honest, this is going to require a level of tact and subtly that I do not have!

So while I’m feeling suitably more au fait about writing press releases and facilitating workshops, successful research communication is going to require a lot more.

#sex #slavery / ethical considerations in research communication

We’ve just finished day 2 of the workshop, and I’m pretty sure the facilitator thinks I’m the most annoying person in the world. What?! I’m enthusiastic!

I’m really enjoying the workshop, but am a bit concerned that we haven’t once spoken about the ethics around research communication. We’ve discussed in depth the use of social media, but ethical considerations have not been given the same consideration.

From my experience, once you’ve developed a research proposal you send it to an ethics committee who assess whether you have sufficiently engaged with the ethical implications of your research and will provide for your participants’ needs. By, for example, providing them with an outline of the research and your contact details, and the details of support networks and care providers if you are talking to vulnerable people or asking personal questions.

While, to my knowledge, research communication is not subjected to the same degree of scrutiny, as researchers this is definitely something we should be thinking about. The most effective way to communicate your research may be to use an image of a participant, but is that ethical? Perhaps it may be to use the moral panics around women and children, #sex and #moderndayslavery, but is it ethical to indulge that panic even momentarily and even if it gets people to read your research? We’re being told to communicate our research as much as possible, but every study has its limitations, and those limitations are seldom acknowledged in our dissemination where we focus on the findings and evidence – because that’s what people/policy makers want – but surely that’s problematic?

But perhaps I’m being too difficult, maybe all of these things are ok. There’s so much terrible information and bad evidence out there, if you have to appeal to people’s love of panic or breeze past your study’s limitations what’s the harm really? At least people are reading your work?

 

Remember Kony 2012? / The importance of research communication

I’m currently at a three day science communication and engagement workshop facilitated by Dialogue Matters and organised by the British Council, Newton Fund, and ASSAf (Academy of Science in South Africa). In honour of my involvement in this event and because I might (secretly) enjoy blogging, I’ve decided to do a short three part series on science communication and my experiences of it to date.

Some of the research that I’ve been working on around policy process and the Trafficking in Persons Act has shown that South Africans, generally, are incredibly reactive towards any information that gets shoved in their faces. We don’t tend to be proactive and find information out for ourselves, we wait for information to come to us via Facebook or Twitter and then, without verifying it, repost or retweet and come to bizarre conclusions about the world. Anyone remember Kony 2012? This is largely what happened with the moral panic* around trafficking in South Africa – those who shouted their ‘facts’ loud enough and presented them in a glossy enough way were believed and were able to make trafficking – a phenomenon of which there is no evidence in SA – part of the national conversation.

So there’s definitely a need for those of us doing methodically sound research to do a better job of telling people about it so that we can avoid or defuse moral panics. Some have also, however, suggested that it’s an obligation of those doing research to communicate it better, or at all. Philosophically, I agree. But on a practical level part of me wonders whether we can expect a bunch of socially awkward academics, in a time of budget cuts, increasing class sizes, and decreasing research funds to find the time to do more with their research findings.

Luckily for me, I’m on a fully funded position with no teaching load, and plenty of time to blog!

 

*For those interested:

For more on moral panics see Cohen, S. 1980. Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the mods and rockers. Oxford: Martin Robertson

‘Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself.’

A blog? In 2016?

 

Yup, that’s right folks, I’m starting a blog in 2016. I haven’t had one of these since I was 15 and I’m pretty sure the background involved butterflies. However, the contract that I signed when I started my PhD with the Migration and Health Project (maHp), includes a clause about writing a blog and communicating my research and the research process – so I’m stuck here, and you’re stuck with me trying to make sense of my research in public. My one consolation is that if my concerns and struggles are documented on the internet for all to see, I might avoid becoming that person at dinner parties who shouts ad nauseum about their work.

One of the focus areas of maHp is ‘knowledge production, dissemination, and uptake’. Research uptake/science communication describe a growing trend within the academy for researchers to do a better job at communicating their research outside of the university space, or even just outside of the obscure journal in which they managed to get their research published.

As such, I’ll be using this blog as a general space to talk about the research process and what my research entails and shows. Due to some concern about journals being willing to publish things that have already been published elsewhere, especially a publicly available blog, until I’ve actually published my findings, I’ll be posting more about the research process and the projects that I’m involved in than the research findings themselves.

For now, while I work on more exciting content for the blog, feel free to peruse the other pages and blogs that I’ve linked in to find out more about the work at ACMS and maHp.