Researchers are nowadays expected to interact with stakeholders. They are expected to define who might benefit from their research outside of academia, and know how to identify the most relevant target groups. These groups vary from decision-makers to industry, and from media to the general public. In addition to finding the right stakeholders, researchers are expected to know which channels are the most useful for reaching them.
At societal level, public engagement of science can have many useful outcomes. These include, on the one hand better informed policy and business innovations with a solid base on credible research, and a better understanding of the ethical and social aspects of research, as well as a more accurate view of science and scientific work, on the other. For researchers, interaction with stakeholders may be rewarding as it stimulates research creativity and innovation, provides ideas and new angles to an issue. It enhances research quality and its impact, and provides different kinds of intellectual challenges, not to mention the many effects of new fruitful partnerships. Some go as far as claiming that quality research in today’s world is dependent on having access to knowledge that is based on broad societal networks.
For the sake of argument, let’s say we agree on so far. But, the problem is that in most cases aspiring researchers have little or no training on public engagement in general, or on social media and blogging in particular. Research training still rests on a more traditional foundation. Generally speaking, researchers are trained on methodology, theory and use of analytical skills, and they are excellent thinkers and argument-builders. But, and this is crucial, they contain knowledge even they may not be aware of and may be feeling unnecessarily self-conscious about delving into the world of social media.
So, we at PE2020 and BONUS decided to grab the bull by its horns. We know that researchers do not necessarily (feel they) have the skills and capabilities to interact efficiently with groups outside the scientific community. Many consider the idea of blogging and social media intimidating. Thus, PE2020 in collaboration with BONUS organised a training session targeted for early-career researchers working on Baltic Sea research. The training focused especially on the use of social media and blogs as they provide new ample possibilities to science communication. The training was organised in March, 2016 and run by a Finnish communications agency Kaskas Media specialised in science outreach.
The training provided hands-on tips on how – and why – researchers can efficiently use social media for public engagement purposes. We learned it is useful to shape our messages to a format that is most understandable and relevant to the target audience. We need to recognise our most important stakeholder groups and tailor our messages to them. No one-size-fits-all solution can be used to communicate to policy-makers, civil society organisations, high school students or companies. We need to know which part of our research is of use to which stakeholders. The message should be wrapped in an appealing way that makes sense to the reader.
Public engagement has become an irremovable part of the skill set of researchers. Some research stars of social media, with very different approaches and methods, acted as guidance. To have a live voice in the world of social media, each researcher needs to find their own personal style of communicating, and most suitable sites for doing that.
A practice-oriented blog clinic followed. Brand new, engaging blog posts were written as a result. We are rather pleased, but you can be the judge of the result: http://www.bonusprojects.org/bonusprojects/blogs.
If you’d like to make use of the training, you’re welcome to use the online version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_yN-gfhDCk.
– Maria and Kirsi –