You cannot truly practice openness in research without considering the public communication of your work (sometimes also called “public engagement” or “outreach”). Public engagement is not just about communicating the conclusions of your research with interested audiences. It also involves engaging with members of wider society regarding the social, ethical and philosophical aspects of your research – sometimes even before you have begun your project! But why spend time discussing your research with those outside your field, people who aren’t even researchers? Public communication of your research makes it more impactful and useful to others. And it also fulfils the implicit obligation we have as researchers to share the knowledge we acquire on behalf of humanity at large.
The motivations for public communication of research and the methods of doing so have evolved over the years. While older models featured one-way communication – from scientists to the public, in the form of lectures and popular articles – the recent model of “public engagement” recommends a two-way approach. Leaving aside the ideological, political and sociological reasons for participating in public communication of research, let’s look at how public communication can benefit your research. Public communication can:
You can lend your voice to public communication of research in a variety of ways. You might organize public visits to your research facility or laboratory, or hold public demonstrations of research technologies and methods. Consider speaking at a local school about research practice in general, to inspire future researchers. Or you could work with teachers on developing school curricula. You can reach remote audiences on the web, by blogging about your research and its ups and downs, by discussing your subject on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, or even hosting your own YouTube channel.
Citizen-science initiatives such as Zooniverse invite active partiicpation and bring research into people’s homes –– find out how you can crowd-source your latest data collection or analysis. And you might engage with local politicians, members of industry, artists, and museums to discuss possible collaborations on public events, exhibitions, etc. You will likely find the possibilities very rewarding!