This week I enjoyed a couple of hours listening to Professor Patrick Dunleavy from LSE blog fame, discussing research impact.
It started off, as most sessions at uni do, with me getting lost. This time I got lost way before the Uni’s buildings as I didn’t follow my GPS and then I did follow my GPS and then I detoured to miss an accident and followed the GPS through the Toll tunnels. I think my GPS decided to get back at me for ignoring it a few times and I went out of one tunnel and into another. Basically instead of arriving 30 minutes early, I arrived $20 poorer and with only 5 minutes to find the Global change Institute building – which in case you are ever looking for it, is not on the Uni ‘OMG I’m lost’ ap. But I did my usual bounce from information board to information board around the Uni and arrived as they were giving the introduction to Patrick. My supervisor walked in, just in front of me, so I felt better, at least I was in the right place.
It took me a little while to align my expectations of the lecture and swirling thoughts with what I was hearing. I often feel that I’ve missed the first episode of a TV series – everybody seemed to know what was going on but me. I caught up when Patrick started discussing research impact and the role of blogs and social media. There were suddenly questions and comments from the floor – concerns about the risks of social media, frustrations at the Uni’s slow pace in the use of academic blogs. Certainly this seemed like a hot and at times emotive topic for many.
I was bemused by the distinction, which was I’m sure very deliberate, between academic blogs and social media. The latter referred to Twitter and FaceBook. I’ve always seen blogs as social, no matter the descriptor. I see the social aspect, particularly for academic blogs as the strength and benefit. This concept came up a couple of times.
Firstly, when thinking about the impact of my research, once I’ve stopped my excited celebrating that I’m published in a big, well-regarded journal – how many people will have access? The policy writers to which I am hoping to have influence? Nope. The public service employees who can inform and direct policy? Nope. Educationists? Nope. Teachers? Nope. Other researchers with whom I have already discussed my work or have influenced my work? Yep!
I will have provided access to those who were already in the know and not the group I wanted to have an impact on – problem.
Secondly, as someone at the lecture articulated in their question – ‘The policy writers and public service don’t know what to do with the research, they don’t know how to use it.’ (Don’t you love a question that is a statement) now I was right with them on this one, I’ve stood on both sides of this topic. I started nodding until they then went on and ‘blamed’ the workers. ‘They’ needed to learn how to read research. ‘They’ needed to take action to run programs to learn how to interpret research for their area and work with researchers. ‘They’ needed to access the many programs that are available (apparently) to help.
I echo Patrick’s comment of, ‘we live in a high tempo world’. In policy or project roles, I and those around me were pretty busy trying to access enough information to provide advice in the 3 hours that we had from the request. Remember that access was generally not available to the big published journals. Could we have contacted our research department? Local universities? Of course and for some projects that occurred, and those partnerships were valued highly – not going to happen in a few hours.
What can happen is a Google/ Google Scholar search. What can be accessed read and consumed are and quickly are blogs, news articles and Twitter links. If you want your research to have impact on those that you address in your abstract or conclusion, then put it where they can access it, in a language they can digest easily. I don’t want a 10 course degustation with matched wines if I have 15 minutes for lunch. I wanted to cheer when Patrick said, ‘I’m a knowledge democrat, I don’t think universities own knowledge’.
Professor Patrick Dunleavy has his own blog, The Impact Blog and Tweets at Write4Research. This lecture included topics raised in a previous blog – http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/12/28/shorter-better-faster-free/ The Impact Blog
Which brings me to another one of his comments – To have impact – live long and repeat yourself.