The story of research communication could begin with scientists like Michael Faraday who realised that if their cutting edge research was to reach its potential and change the world it had to be seen. It had to satisfy what physicist Peter Fisher describes as the ‘…American sensibility of, “Show me!” Yeah, you can write your fancy European words, you can write equations, you can publish in some journal nobody reads. I want to see it… show me!’ (American Experience: Tesla, 2016). Hence events like the Christmas Lecture series at the Royal Institution in London were born, a tradition that still lasts to this day.
Here we see a captive audience eager to learn, but also be entertained. Today we have global and mobile ‘publics‘ with unlimited access to multiple forms of entertainment and knowledge. So how could/should research communication change in order to engage with these diverse, contemporary audiences. “One of the key principles of research communication is to go where the audience is” (Wilkinson and Weitkamp, 2016). There is a desire for research to be woven in to the fabric of society, and whilst art, visual culture and the spaces they inhabit are well suited to doing this, there is a whole world out there.
As we move past the era of ‘the enlightenment’ with science communication and into the modern era – all subjects in universities are treated as ‘the science’ of that field. With this in mind, the popularity of creative and scientific thinking amongst publics is important if we live in a world where the ‘leader of the free world’ flat-out rejects it. “Cultivating a broad public appreciation of science throws a protective blanket around the scientific community that must produce the experts society needs” (Varoufakis, 2017).
As the Research Excellence Framework (REF) increases pressure to be innovative in regards to impact and public engagement, splinter groups of practitioners interested in all aspects of ‘research communication’ and public engagement have emerged. Wilkinson and Weitkamp (2016) lay some strong foundations for the creative direction that research communication should go from an academic point of view and suggest it is time for new approaches to prove their worth.
But what happens when the artist-curator, a progressive architect of interdisciplinary display and exchange, is challenged to develop such approaches? Perhaps ‘progressive research communication’ – a desire for research to enter public consciousness by any means necessary. In using the artist-curator as a prism for research, a new role emerges. A role which responds to Stern (2016) and Holden (2015) calling for a mediatory role to exist at the crossroads between research activities, outputs, impact, public engagement and culture; this role is the curator of research.
Research ‘dissemination’ was once the order of the day, and would involve telling an audience about the research and its findings with the hope of resolving issues attributed to limited public understanding. Contemporary theory says there needs to be a conversation; a two way street in order to navigate issues of “motivation, trust, ethics and power” (Wilkinson and Weitkamp, 2016) and perception. Perhaps the current era is that of both ‘research communication’ and ‘research creation’.
‘American Experience: Tesla’ (2016) Netflix. Available at: netflix.com/gb/title/80991257
Blaikley, A. (1856) Michael Faraday’s Christmas Lecture [lithograph]. Available at: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weihnachtsvorlesung_(Royal_Institution)
Holden, J. (2015) The Ecology of Culture. Swindon: Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Stern, N. et al. (2016) Building on Success and Learning from Experience: An Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework. Available at: assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5413 38/ind-16-9-ref-stern-review.pdf
Varoufakis, Y. (2017) Talking to my Daughter about the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism. UK: Bodley Head
Wilkinson, C. & Weitkamp, E. (2016) Creative Research Communication. Manchester: Manchester University Press