New technologies have the potential to share knowledge both further and faster. The 2012 Times Higher Education Knowledge Exchange / Transfer Initiative of the Year was recently won by the London School of Economics and Political Science for a series of academic blogs, and the managing editors of the four blogs shared their thoughts with socialsciencespace about the state, impact, and future of academic blogging:
Danielle Moran - Impact of Social Sciences
Chris Gilson – EUROPP – European Politics and Policy Blog
Amy Mollett – LSE Review of Books
Paul Rainford – British Politics and Policy
Why do you think the blogs were needed?
Paul Rainford – The British Politics and Policy blog was the first of the blogs to be established, and serves three principle functions: increases the public understanding of the social sciences in the context of UK government; facilitates the sharing and exchange of knowledge between experts within and outside universities; opens up academic research to increase its impact. It disintermediates the process of academic communication and allows for academics to contribute their expertise directly to UK politics and policy debates.
Danielle Moran - Drawing on the Public Policy Group’s then recent success of the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog, the Impact of Social Sciences aimed to demonstrate how academic research in the social sciences achieves public policy impacts and informs public understanding of policy issues, along with economic and social changes. Setting up a blog that would disseminate the results of our research and engage with a wider public was an obvious step.
Amy Mollett – The LSE Review of Books has grown from the real need for a high quality, free and open access source of academic review, with a global outlook covering all major social science disciplines. With all the discussion on the Impact of the Social Sciences site, and elsewhere, about open access and controversy around pay walls and journals, this year was the perfect time to launch.
Chris Gilson – Much of the academic social sciences operate in an environment that is more or less ‘sealed off’ from the public. We felt that an edited, multi-author, academic blog would be a way for academics to get their research to an audience of thousands rather than tens, and in a period of days or weeks rather than years.
What sort of work is being published?
Paul Rainford – British Politics and Policy draws primarily on the community of academics and researchers at the London School of Economics, but we welcome contributions from UK and overseas universities and other research organisations. We encourage the submission of material that focuses on substantive insights or research as it pertains to any aspect of British politics and policy. We have no editorial ‘line’ except a commitment to communicating social science research and commentary in ways that enhance public debate and understanding.
Chris Gilson – On the British Politics and Policy blog and the EUROPP blog we’ve strived to be very multi-disciplinary across the social sciences, so we are aiming for a wide range of content – as long as it is evidence based and communicated in an easy to understand way. For example on EUROPP, we’ve had commentary on the European Central Bank, thoughts on Kant’s theoretical underpinnings of the EU, research about how the Greek public are reacting to the crisis, and an investigation into how much national legislation really does come from Brussels.
Danielle Moran – The Impact of Social Sciences blog has grown rapidly into an online hub for researchers and academics who are interested in issues surrounding open access and journal publishing, research funding and the REF and the use of new digital media in research methods. It’s no longer a place where the Public Policy Group post their research findings and hope that other people take the time to read about it – instead, the blog thrives on the thoughts of researchers across the globe and their willingness to open themselves up and discuss their experiences in academia.
Amy Mollett – We publish two book reviews each day, covering all the main social science disciplines, and on Sundays we publish an account by an academic on the books that inspired them. We feature academics from around the world, each one with an amazing and very personal story to share. Challenging the Ivory Tower image is something we keep in mind daily; keeping academic credibility is so important, but equally so is sharing in an accessible and enjoyable way for all readers.
What has been the impact of the work?
Chris Gilson – To begin with our blog articles have been read literally hundreds of thousands of times by people across the world, so we get hundreds of pieces of research and the commentary of hundreds of academics out to a very wide public. The potential for online outreach is incredible. On the European side, we’ve also been helping to build a community of academic bloggers in Europe, where none has really existed in a comprehensive way up until now.
Paul Rainford - We need to get better at quantifying this aspect of academic blogging (if nothing else our future funding applications will depend on it), but broadly speaking I think we have witnessed a genuine appetite for expert and evidenced commentary on various public policy issues as they pertain to the social sciences, whether it’s from government departments and the specialist media, or the wider public more generally.
Amy Mollett – Visitors come from around the world and we’re seeing increased readership in India and Japan as well as from all across Europe. As LSE Review of Books is only a few months old it’s hard to say what the impact will be – but by the end of 2012 we’re really hoping to cement ourselves as a big player in the online book review and social science debate world.
Danielle Moran – The number of people reading our blog on a day-to-day basis has grown rapidly in the past year and through this we can see that there is a demand for regular, original and interesting content. It’s clear that there is a particularly vibrant Higher Education community online and I hope that the blog provides them with a valuable place to discover and debate big ideas and the practical realities of working in academia and research. However, it’s important to remember that this is still very much a learning process – we are still trying new ways to engage with an ever-wider academic audience.
What does the future hold?
Danielle Moran – Who knows?! When so much of the focus remains on the blogs and social networking tools like Twitter, it’s easy to forget that there is a whole community of academics who are either not interested in these tools or not convinced by our arguments in favour of them. There are big discussions going on about the future of academic work, and publishing in particular, and we need to engage with as many researchers as we can if we are to evaluate and secure the best future for academic publishing.
Paul Rainford – There’s a struggle to convince sceptical members of the academy and the public alike that academic blogging is a worthwhile and credible activity that stimulates debate and engagement, rather than simply an idle distraction that diverts attention and resources away from the ‘real’ work of writing books or articles for peer review journals.
Chris Gilson– We hope to expand our reach, readership and impact with podcasts, videos, and more content! A lot depends on what technology brings us – we’re already heavily using Twitter and Facebook, and I’m sure whatever is next will be just as important to our blog family.
Amy Mollett – We’re very excited about the future, and all the interest from publishers means that we’ll be covering more disciplines soon. Tying in exclusive events to the blog is something we’re looking into as well, but we can’t give too much away! As a final note, we’d love to hear from authors who are looking to get their recent books reviewed, and we’d love to hear from interested reviewers as well!
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