Organisational Public Engagement with Science and Technology

Public engagement (PE) with S&T has become a crucial activity for academic and research organisations. While communication amongst academics, universities and the public is nothing new, it takes on added urgency in a world of global science and competition among universities for students, staff and funding. This, together with the requirements from governments and funders for institutions to address economic and social problems with research [1, 2, 3] has resulted in mounting pressure on institutions to demonstrate the impact of research on society. Research on PE activities has mainly focused on individual scientists [4-7], with little attention paid to the institutional structures for communication. Our ongoing research (2016-2018) has been a pioneer in contributing to this gap by mapping communication at the level of research institutes (RIs) (meso-level) within academic institutions in 10 countries around the world [8, 9]. It suggests that, communication is emerging at the level of RIs (meso), and points to differences in activities and goals with central structures. This indicates, at a first glance, a trend towards decentralisation of the central communications of academic institutions, but this needs further examination. To date, we know very little about the central level of communication [10]. Most importantly, no comparable data is available between the meso and central levels to allow for a comprehensive picture of the whole institutional communication. The practices of RIs by themselves do not reflect the whole institution. This points to an urgent need to understand central communication functions and we are confident research in this area will have a meaningful impact in academics and policy. The proposed project 'OPEN - Organisational Public ENgagement' (2018-2020) aims to address this need. It will examine central communication structures and relationships with the meso structures. It will apply a questionnaire survey to representative samples of institutions in Portugal, the UK, Italy and Germany to assess resources for PE (funding, staff), PE policies, values and functions of communication (marketing, PR), barriers, among others. Our ultimate goal is to develop indicators for institutional PE. The team brings together the collaborators already working on the 2016-18 project with expertise in large-scale surveys and the local knowledge to implement the surveys locally. The contributions to the literature will be twofold: 1) it will map the central communication PE activities across countries allowing for cross-national comparison; 2) it will allow for multi-level modelling combining new data (central) with data already existing (meso). This will be the first empirical work of such type. It will also have impacts at the political, institutional and societal levels by producing evidence that can inform institutional policies and practices to better engage society in research and generate indicators to measure institutional PE.

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External Partners
CIES-IUL - Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology
Data from Ciência-IUL
ISCTE FCT Portugal