4 thoughts on “A pox on www! Has the humble website become the public engagement tool of choice for the lazy scientist?

  1. Good points. I think part of the problem is that there aren’t enough communication professionals within many academic organisations, and researchers don’t know what the different options are (beyond the standard peer-reviewed journal article, conference presentation, press release and website). The incentives for researchers to communicate their research could also be improved…

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  2. I absolutely agree that the default, knee-jerk ‘ let’s put it on (our/a) website without stopping to think how far that will actually get us’ response has become a dangerous trend in getting information to the public, especially in the increasingly cash and human-resource poor public sector.
    However there is a more fundamental problem i.e. how much clinical research still rides along on its own, discrete, unknown, even more hidden from view than other NHS Information highway, wholly or largely detached from the health organisation where the clinical activity and the research action happens, and from whatever communications and public interface it may have to offer (and it may not have much at the moment – which brings its own problems, though if partnership working was taken seriously there could be financial and resource benefits that could offer a solution to those). Should we not be prioritizing building strong bridges at every level across the divide which has the clinical research world on one side and NHS commissioners and providers on the other. If we are really serious about bringing clinical research participation and involvement out of its closet do we not need to look seriously at a much closer relationship? At making and building strong connections between the business of clinical research and everyday clinical encounter in the places where patients actually access services,between the development of participation and involvement in research and the strategic planning and development of that public interface and involvement in those same places? I fear that while we ignore the gaping chasm between the world of clinical research and the rest of the NHS, which is where the people are who need to be reached, we will not really make the breakthroughs that are needed.
    While I agree that Simon is right in what he says here, are we straining and gnats whilst swallowing camels?

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    1. Really enjoyed your insight and comment. Yes, I am railing at a symptom most definitely, which has deeper causes. Ultimately I think there’s a lot of research being done which is self-serving and where the benefits to patient health would seem marginal.

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  3. I kind of disagree with you Simon about the explosion of websites and I can understand researcher’s confusion about the cost of commissioning project websites.

    ‘Pools and puddles’ is the phrase that comes to mind. Some people argue that blogging is over because there is just too much of it, whilst others say that there will always be a reader for your particular ‘pool’ or ‘puddle’ of knowledge.

    I sit in the puddle camp and believe that like a desk, laptop or filing cabinet, a website or blog is a basic requirement to put the ‘stuff’ for an integrated communication strategy.

    The key words are however, integrated communication strategy. A website on its own is only a place to put stuff. Researchers need to think much harder about what else to do, to communicate their messages.

    I was directly employed (too late in the process it transpired) to work on a European funded research project which deliberately set out to increase engagement between the researchers and the multitude of the potential publics. The post came about because we examined the papers published in academic journals from a similar, previous EU funded project. Top articles in the Lancet get 240-1075 citations typically. From this project, 15 papers were published, resulting in a mere 42 citations in low impact journals. We found that there had been no co-ordinated publication strategy and papers took up to five years to appear.

    EU is keen that research is disseminated better, so following the publication: ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/fp7/ssh/docs/guide-communicating-research_en.pdf we wrote an integrated communications strategy for the new project and set out to try to implement it.

    Boy was it difficult!

    The key thing we missed out was involving policy makers early in the research process. If research is to have any impact, then the people who are going to implement the findings need to be involved.

    There were lots of other obstacles I can describe if anyone is interested, but overall, if research is going to get anywhere, researchers need to think about who they are researching for and how to work with them at the design stage.

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