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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Research for all: a journal for all

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 April 2014

Sandy Oliver

There is nothing unusual about academics and amateurs sharing and discussing their interests in learning. Professional and amateur stargazers debate the night sky, volunteers dig alongside archaeologists, biographers need readers and museums thrive with interactive exhibits.
Applied research such as medicine, communications or agriculture, elicits opinions about the focus, ethics and governance of research from people interested in the potential benefits and harms of new technologies or ways of working. All this is public engagement with research – where non-researchers are either contributing to the research, or debating or making use of the findings. Citizen science, engaged scholarship, patient involvement, public participation, practitioner research and many other terms describe activities which have overlapping principles and methods.
Sharing lessons between the disciplines and across policy sectors is difficult because we do not have a common language or shared understanding of what public engagement comprises and how it operates.
In the UK universities are supported by Research Councils UK and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement  to encourage a growing culture of public engagement with research – by developing the “the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public”. This engagement is taken to be “a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit”.
Staff at the Institute of Education have been part of this social movement. Universities across the UK and internationally have been opening up their ‘ivory towers’ and finding new ways to work with other people in organisations and networks where knowledge is valued for culture and for policy decisions.
For instance, university students who grew up in local authority care played a prominent role as workshop leaders and spoke movingly about their own challenging experiences at a conference reporting a study of them and 150 of their peers. Ultimately, the By Degrees study (pdf) led to the introduction of a bursary for care leavers who go on to higher education and encouraged many UK universities and local authorities to improve the support they offer care leavers.
On a lighter note, pupils and teachers were involved in pilot testing software (pdf) that would allow young people to make 3D adventure and puzzle games that are as satisfying to play as the ones they buy. Developing a common language was important for cross-disciplinary and cross-generational understanding of game design, and a new quality, commercial product.
Elsewhere, public debate about nanotechnologies (engineering on a molecular scale) illustrated how public engagement can: reveal public concerns and wishes; suggest new lines of enquiry; open science to public scrutiny; provoke reflection on the wider, social implications of scientific developments; and help scientists and the public develop new skills and mutual appreciation.
Ironically, despite holding similar principles, academics who are applying them in various areas for different purposes are often working in isolation, unaware that other enthusiasts are down the corridor or in neighbouring universities. Now, discussions between the eight universities with RCUK public engagement ‘catalyst’ funding, and the NCCPE, have inspired plans for an international journal for academics and others interested in research.
This journal, to be launched by IOE Press, will focus on the role of academic research in society at large, and the role of society at large in academic research. It will publish empirical research and critical analyses of public engagement with research across all academic disciplines; opinion pieces from public perspectives and engagement intermediaries; and reviews of books and events. It is a forum for sharing the learning from research and practice that crosses boundaries between research and the wider world, across academic disciplines and policy sectors.
The journal will consider the questions academics ask about how to choose between different publics and different methods depending on the context of their research projects, and the consequent impact on the research and those involved. It will consider the questions asked by outsiders wishing to engage academics in research – how to read research, news or commentaries with a critical eye, navigate university structures, and inspire academics with new agendas. Lastly, it will consider the systems and cultures that support or block academics and the public learning from each other.
Typical of this area – where choice of language reveals assumptions, cliques and fashions – an appropriate name for such a journal remains elusive. The vision is to bring together the wisdom of academics, practitioners, Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassadors and all manner of engaged publics. Their task will be to shape a ground-breaking journal – and find a name.

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8 Responses to “Research for all: a journal for all”

  • 1
    alice wrote on 12 April 2014:

    Will it be (a) open access and (b) have a budget to pay writers who aren’t already paid to publish in such journals? (e.g. the large number of freelancers in the field)
    If the answer to either of these is no, I really don’t see how you can expect to be taken seriously.
    Honestly, I think the idea of launching yet another journal just looks a bit silly. But I appreciate that journals are flexible beasts, so many you have plans to do something new and interesting here. If so, I really look forward to seeing it.

  • 2
    Blog Editor wrote on 15 April 2014:

    Sandy Oliver writes:
    Dear Alice
    When the idea for this journal began to emerge my starting point was that it has to be open access. I was interested in nothing else. Fortunately the publishers agreed. We’re spending some time talking about it even before issuing an invitation for papers specially to elicit all the issues that are important to potential readers and contributors. Hence the blog, and discussions at conferences that attract a broad range of participants. We’re glad to have feedback and have plans to secure funding for a good balance of contributions. Without it we couldn’t achieve our vision.
    Best wishes,

  • 3
    Jonathan Dore wrote on 14 April 2014:

    A timely project on a theme that’s not only likely to be central to the next REF cycle, but also more broadly for underpinning public support for research in HEs. Anything that helps reduce the dangerously broadening gap between public understanding and the reality of research (and STEM research in particular) is to be applauded. Good luck!

  • 4
    Kenneth Skeldon wrote on 14 April 2014:

    I think the Journal is a good idea because it addresses a gap in the peer reviewed literature around “Public Engagement with Research”. I think it needs to maintain a good level of academic standing and take a similar approach to the International Researcher Development Journal for instance (where a 2-prong combination of case study/emprical evidence type submissions and those backed up with academic/statisitcal rigour are welcomed). I also think the journal needs to be a place where anyone, whether actively involved in PER, or in the advocacy or culture change around PER, or as an actor outside academia supporting PER can submit. I do not think the journal should pay for articles, or invite articles from particular spheres. It could however consider how to support / incentivise reviewers who are not core funded by research or related activity. I think the title is a good one, and the additional ideas of an ‘open space’ style area for discussion has merit, although this latter measure needs to examine how it would differ, or add to, the conversations that happen in social media already (especially twitter) or indeed, those featured in emerging online initiaitves such as ‘The Conversation’.

  • 5
    Richard Holliman (@science_engage) wrote on 14 April 2014:

    Hi Sandy
    It was great to see your announcement of a ‘Research for all’ journal. The journal has the potential to provide an important space for researchers and their publics to engage with different perspectives, and to share learning about their approaches to engaged research.
    I think it’s helpful that you’re opening up discussions about the journal before it goes live: in itself, a form of upstream engagement. There are a good number of decisions to be made about the shaping and framing of this new venture. Your post and others that follow will provide a valuable opportunity to listen to views from others working in this area.
    If I had one request to make at this early stage of discussion it would be to ensure that research in all its diversity features. Science, and more broadly STEM subjects, have much to offer in terms of developing our shared understanding of engaged research. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from working on the RCUK-funded PER Catalyst initiative, it’s that there are so many interesting and valuable perspectives in other academic domains. I’d love the opportunity to learn more from these perspectives too.
    I know this is the start of the public conversation. It’s also a chance to say thanks to you and colleagues for getting things to this point. What you’re trying to do is difficult, but your aims are very worthwhile and so timely.
    It’s now up to the engagement community more widely, including researchers and their publics, to help shape this project going forwards. I look forward to further engagement along the way…

  • 6
    Michael Reiss wrote on 14 April 2014:

    Dear Sandy,
    Great to see this. I look forward to the journal!

  • 7
    Charlotte Thorley wrote on 15 April 2014:

    Hi Sandy,
    Really looking forward to being part of this conversation as the journal develops. I know at the Catalyst meetings we’ve discussed the different ways we might share learning from the whole range of engagement activity that’s going on, across all disciplines. There’s so much to learn not just from Science Communication, but also so much from community projects, the performing arts, social sciences and patient groups to name but a few.
    The fact that the journal will be open access is great. It’s our role as a community now to ensure that it’s not just available but is in fact accessed and contributed to by these diverse stakeholders; I guess this starts here by us contributing to the journal as it grows. I for one would be interested to explore the ways the journal might be supported by social media, videos, discussion boards and other peripheral activities.
    I echo Rick’s thanks to you and your team for getting us this far.

  • 8
    Understanding impact: what it actually mean? | IOE London blog wrote on 9 May 2014:

    […] like, what it means and how it happens. At a recent conference we explored the linked questions of research impact and public engagement: the relationships between research, policy, practice and improvement, are things some of my […]