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Public communication of research institutes compared across countries

Public communication of research institutes compared across countries

In recent years, we have witnessed a growing tendency within academic and research organisations to turn to the public; and it is surprising how little systematic research exists on how this change is taking place. With a few studies that have looked at PR communications offices in German universities, and their influence in scientists’ visibility in the media, less is known about what is happening at other levels within organisations; not to mention how the activity is developing across countries with very different traditions, commitments and resources for science and science communication.

In this linked session, a group of science communication researchers, will present first hand empirical evidence on the communication function of institutes/units in eight countries (within research universities and large research organisations), and discuss tensions and challenges for science communication. The findings presented here result from the international study ‘MORE-PE- Mobilisation of REsources for Public Engagement’ carried out in Portugal, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, the USA, Brazil, Japan, and China. This will be the first presentation of the results on a comparative level.

The speakers are:

Paper 1 - Marta Entradas –ISCTE- University Lisbon Institute/Visiting Fellow at LSE

Paper 2 - Martin Bauer – London School of Economics (LSE)

Paper 3 - Giuseppe Pellegrini – Italy, OBSERVA Science in Society

Paper 4 - John Besley/Anthony Dudo – USA, Michigan University/ Texas University

Paper 5 - Asako Akamura - National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Japan

Author: Marta Entradas
LSE, United Kingdom

The mobilisation of public activities compared across countries This paper follows from the main research questions on the basis of the MORE-PE project: what public communication are research institutions doing, and with what resources, and how does the activity vary across countries. We will introduce general characteristics of public communication activity across the surveyed countries -- differences and similarities -- including the adoption of policies, professionalisation of the communication function, and distribution of resources. These data will lead into the discussion of the ‘centralisation/decentralisation hypothesis’ (Entradas and Bauer, 2018) -- whether we are moving towards decentralised structures of communication within research organisations. An emerging “Arms Race” - Resourcing the public communication effort

Speaker: Martin Bauer
LSE, United Kingdom

The medialisation of science hypothesis (Peters, Weingart et al, 2012) expects a rising presence and public attention to science in the mass media on the one hand, and an over-adaptation on the side of science and scientific institutions to the logic of news values to feed this rising appetite for attention to science. This idea defines a risk of science communication, rather than the communication of risks. A number of trends point to such a potential risk: the construction of careers on public visibility rather than research reputation, a bias for research questions that are anticipated to attract public attention, the shifting of resources from ground research towards communication efforts. In this paper, we will examine the latter of these trends. We call it the ‘public engagement (PE) arms race’ hypothesis: in a context of increased competition among research units for limited funds, increasing proportions of funds are re-allocated from the primary task of research to the secondary task of communicating about research. The PE arms race metaphor suggests that this competition creates niches for hypertrophic forms of engagement with little functional relevance beyond market signalling (i.e. a Baroque culture), and because these niches are costly, they might at some point tip into dysfunctionality. Our international project tries to establish baseline data to see where this trend is at, is moving towards and where its tipping point might be. Predicting success in Public Engagement

Speaker: John Besley
Michigan State University, United States

One area of focus within the MORE-PE data is self-reported perceived successfulness of current public engagement efforts and whether current engagement spending is adequate. This paper will describe efforts to explore what other variables are associated with both types of measures. This will be done in the context of past strategic communication research literature that highlights perceived successfulness as a potential indicators of engagement quality. Initial exploratory analyses using American data suggest that key statistical drivers of perceived successfulness and desire for additional resources include the depth of past engagement efforts along with the availability of engagement experts within a research unit. Discussion will address the degree to which this data provides an argument for putting increased attention on building science communication infrastructure rather than focusing on improving scientists’ individual-level skills. A global typology of research institutes on the basis of public communication activities

Speaker: Giuseppe Pellegrini
Observa Science in Society, Italy

Within the MORE-PE project, we built a typology of institutes based on the activities they use to engage different audiences. Combining different sets of variables regarding types of communication activities conducted (public events, channels of communication, social media channels), and types of audiences addressed (public and stakeholders), we profile the ‘communicative action’ of institutions across countries. Three different profiles are identified, which highlight different sources, channels and formats of communication. Public engagement in Japan: in pre-history or sunrise stage?

Speaker: Asako Okamura
Senior Research Fellow, National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), Japan

With increasing concerns over science and society links, this study reveals how Japanese research institutes are communicating to and engaging with the public. As MORE-PE is the first nation-wide empirical investigation of this kind in Japan, the first objective of this talk is to unveil the structure of science communication (SC) and public engagement (PE) activities from a bird’s eye view, by observing multiple indicators derived from the surveys. The second objective is to detangle complex interactions among different elements which may affect the level of SC/PE activities. Such elements range from scientific fields, size of institutions, to subjective ones including factors of motivation and awareness of research institutions. The third objective is to understand how policies and institutional factors play a role in determining the level of SC/PE activities by research institutions. The discussion will focus on whether Japanese research institutes have gone further beyond just disseminating scientific information to engaging with the public.

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