Making your research accessible

Unpacking the share and engage mantra for researchers: the case of blogging

By 6 June 2011

If you don’t know it yet, or if you’re not sure of its significance it’s time you caught up – web 2.0 has dramatically changed the way people use and interact with the internet and the wider world, if you thought you could hide from the perils of openness and transparency  you were wrong.

The research community is not alone in underestimating and under utilising the web, but there is undoubtedly a new emerging mantra for researchers looking to improve their research and get it into use: share and engage.

A leading child psychologist once quipped “Adults would not learn to talk if they had to learn”. The context is of course very different, but the meaning of this statement seems pertinent to how learning and knowledge acquisition take place more generally. Children, it seems, have a better aptitude for learning because they are not afraid to experiment, are open to mistakes and not afraid of what others think of them. In a sense they are able to push those boundaries, many of us are hesitant to explore.

We can shift this thinking to the web, where numerous different social media platforms might just provide the ‘space’ for powerful knowledge sharing and acquisition. Web 2.0 tools provide a wonderful opportunity to share thinking, to experiment with ideas, seek feedback from a wide array of different audiences, while also honing your communication skills.

This argument is often lost in a world where the peer review journal is king, and where the research process, its trials and tribulations, and intricate methodological decisions, are not spared a thought in research reports. If anyone has ever read Aramis or the Love of Technology by Bruno Latour you will understand the power of exploring and working through ideas with others (in this case a young engineer explores ideas with his Professor). However, now these kinds of conversations can take place in real time amongst many different people.

A recent example was highlighted in The Observer article entitled Open science: a future shaped by shared experience. In this we hear about a number of researchers who have utilised the share and engage mantra. Timothy Gowers, for instance, a Professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge described the dramatic impact on his own work of setting up a blog.

“Within days, readers, including high-ranking academics, had chipped in vital pieces of information or new ideas. In just a few weeks, the number of contributors had reached more than 40 and a result was on the horizon. Since then, the joint effort has led to several papers published in journals under the collective pseudonym DHJ Polymath. It was an astonishing and unexpected result.”

Similarly Cameron Neylon, a biophysicist from the University of Southampton, found that publishing his lab notebook on the web enhanced the quality of his research.

“Once you see how the web connects people and makes them more effective, it’s a given. We can make research more efficient by making parts of the process more public. Some people are worried they’ll be scooped if they put their research into the open [but] the sooner we can get to a point where people are rewarded for making more public their ideas, concepts, materials and data, the better off we’ll be.”

There is a long way to go before a transparent research culture emerges, but what is reassuring is that some people are already breaking with the entrenched culture of the research community to great effect. We will be exploring practical steps researchers can take to integrate the share and engage mantra in their own work through future posts on R2A. But as a parting shot, it’s worth noting the growing calls for transparency from research donors, and would it not be rather progressive if the share and engage mantra was integrated into these calls.

Related articles:

The potential of blogging to researchers, was also outlined in to blog or not to blog? (recently featured on R2A). It argued,

“If you want your research to matter to the public, you need to blog. If you want your research to have an impact beyond your small circle of peers, you need to blog. If you want to meet the needs of your research funders as they increasingly demand transparent access to your results, you need to blog.  If you don’t, they will soon be requiring it or some other form of open and transparent access of research reporting”

The value of blogging for student learning has been also been explored through a detailed study at the University of Edinburgh. This research is introduced by Engage students through blogging.

  • Interesting post with good inks and resources! This article may also be of interest in relation to this topic:

    “Advancing Global Health Research Through Digital Technology and Sharing Data” By Trudie Lang

    Printed in the Science Journal in Feb this year, it explores how rapid advances in digital technologies can overcome barriers to collaborative science health research in remote and rural areas with limited resources.