I’m helping a University and some academic researchers think through how their areas of work can be more about being ‘for’ the particular areas of society they serve, than ‘about’. Actively contributing rather than dispassionately observing. Or, of course, ensuring that if dispassionately observing is their main contribution that they are dispassionately observing something that contributes something more than just an academic paper.
I find I can’t answer that question without being clearer about what a specific academic area is supposed to be for. It’s easier then to consider how that positioning, those skills, resources and mindsets can be oriented more towards making a valued contribution.
I initially started this with the usual big question ‘What’s Academia for’, (enjoyed a useful article by Alain de Botton – What’s Academia for‘), but found that though both questions have common elements, actually it was more useful to look at it through the lens of individual research areas to start with and then look at the whole.
I would love to know your views, and any easily accessible materials. (Ie, not long boring academic papers written using language I don’t understand!). Here are my starting points, and thanks to Helen Pallett and Roland Jackson on twitter for contributing to this list and Duncan Green from Oxfam for his enjoyable blogs on why academics can help NGOs
So an academic can contribute to society through:
- Dispassionately observing phenomena?
- Providing an independent or impartial view?
- Delivering rigorous evidence?
- Providing space for others to reflect on key issues?
- Questioning things taken for granted?
- Challenging assumptions?
- Creating new technologies, products, services or systems?
- Developing new ways of thinking or working?
- Providing access to funding for important work with others?
- Helping us understand ourselves better?
- Helping shed light on how different perspectives or ways of thinking can help us as individuals or organisations more effective?
I know these are not all comparable, some are values others might be actions. This is why I need help!
Any light you can shed on this for me would be most helpful. I will write it up and hope it might ‘shed some light’ for us all on what RRI could deliver in practice. And I don’t have to write a long academic paper – that’s the fun of not being an academic!