|Public Engagement for Research Uptake Using Websites|
|Thursday, 02 October 2014 14:14|
This blog provides an overview of Obafemi Awolowo University’s (OAU) public engagement activities and highlights the importance of university websites in promoting public engagement.
Public engagement is top of the agenda for many universities as a way of ensuring that their research has social and economic, as well as academic impact. Public engagement is not simply about dissemination – its more about conversation and it can take place in a number of ways, for example seminars, roundtables, conferences, open days, using the university website and includes media engagement as well as community engagement. It can also take place at any time in the research process - when you are shaping your research (to ensure it is relevant, ethically compliant and to develop appropriate outputs), during the research process (so that communities under study for example are kept informed about the research process and results) as well as at the end of the research process, once the results and outputs are available.
Public Engagement in Practice
All of the DRUSSA universities engage with the public in a variety of ways. Obafemi Awolowo University, one of the West African DRUSSA universities, for example participates in the full range of engagement activities. “The traditional outlets are in common use here ie newsletters, radio interviews (on the University Radio station), attendance at public exhibitions and fairs, seminars and conferences, etc. Other means of engaging the public include: newspaper articles, disseminating the university research report, the Advancement Office in fund solicitation, inaugural lectures, field demonstrations by researchers to beneficiaries at the rural level, etc.” . (Prof. Mrs Kehinde Taiwo Ph.D Dept. of Food Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University and Research Uptake Champion).
The activities at OAU demonstrate how public engagement involves not just one “public” but many “public’s” as universities have diverse audiences. The university radio station will reach the students and local community, as will newspaper articles that may also be picked up by regional and international media. These will be read by policy makers, practitioners and civil society groups. The university research report will reach policy makers and academics in the region and abroad. Inaugural lectures are open to the public and field demonstration reach residents in rural areas. Together all these activities ensure a broader reach and deeper impact for university research activities.
It is often difficult to set aside time for engagement – researchers play a multitude of roles, including teaching, mentoring, writing proposals, writing papers and of course conducting research. Most universities have public relations or communications offices who can play an important role not only in research dissemination but promoting research uptake (RU) through public engagement.
Prof Taiwo reports that “At the OAU the role of public engagement is currently managed by the Public Relations Unit but the Central Office of Research (COR) will be taking on the role of disseminating research results and monitoring the dissemination activities in order not to burden the researchers further.”
Websites are very good engagement tools. In research conducted by the Think Tanks Initiative which surveyed government, NGO’s, media, academic, private sector and multi/bilateral organisations users of research in ten African countries, websites were seen by all respondent categories as the preferred way to access information. Across the countries surveyed (Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burkina Faso) 8 out of 10 respondents ranked websites as most useful. Only in Ethiopia and Tanzania did print media come up tops. Although narrowed to policy makers it shows that websites are an important way of communicating with stakeholders
All the DRUSSA universities advertise public events through their websites and quite a few go further than this and write up short reports on events that take place and put these reports on their websites as a way of reaching people who were not able to attend the event. (University of Zambia and KNUST are just two examples of this). These are reports where information is packaged in a way to engage readers and provide the relevant contact information for further discussion. CPUT for example provides live streaming to some of its events, via its website.
This article was written on the basis of discussion with Prof. Mrs Kehinde Taiwo Ph.D Dept. of Food Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University and Research Uptake Champion