3R. Rewarding scientists who communicate and engage
Scientists get jobs, promotions and funding based on the number of academic papers they publish and the number of citations they collect. The incentives to communicate publicly are still weak in many countries.
Recognising that the participation of research-active scientists is a critical ingredient in harnessing the multitude of benefits that public science engagement can deliver, calls are mounting for this reward system to be changed. There is a need for a change in the culture of science that will recognised and value public communication and engagement as an integral part of excellence in research. Ideally, high quality research should always be accompanied by high quality communication, public engagement and outreach.
In order to encourage scientists to become visible on public platforms where they are much more likely to get attention from policymakers, business leaders and journalists, they should be recognised and rewarded for their public engagement efforts.
“Scientists appreciate copies of their media coverage and they can also use this to create further awareness and support future funding applications. It is really important to remember to send them these clips (PDF files; audio/video clips; online links, etc.) as soon as possible after their media engagements. If your university subscribes to a media monitoring service, you can also share the AVE (advertising value equivalent) of their media coverage with them. When I point out to researchers that this is an indication of what it would have cost to buy similar ad space, they are usually impressed.” Wiida Basson, media liaison officer at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
When assessing researchers’ performance, their contribution towards and impact on policy formulation and public debates should also be considered. This will require institutional rewards. Universities (and other research organisations) need to change the way the beans are counted and come up with novel ways that will incentivise public engagement and recognise it as a form of scholarship.
Research communicators are uniquely positioned to promote the idea of recognising and rewarding scientists for public engagement. You could be instrumental in creating a new award system (such as a “Public Science Champion Award”) within your university. Such an award will help to recognise, profile and celebrate the achievements of scientists who walk the extra mile to make their research visible and accessible to the public.
Even without “formal” recognition or reward from the organisations where they work, scientists who reach out to the media and other external audiences gain public visibility and have a more influential voice. Many also derive personal satisfaction from engaging the public. However, increased institutional reward and recognition for public engagement will fast-track the process of making it part of the research culture at universities and other research institutes.
“It is becoming a requirement of more and more funding agencies for researchers to commit to communicating their findings as a fulfilment of their grant requirements. The communications support that we offer to scientists is thus being warmly welcomed, increasingly by those who hadn’t previously really considered it as a fundamental aspect of their jobs.” Shirona Patel, communication manager at the University of the Witwatersrand
“It would be a noble idea to offer an award for a science communication champion at university level. It should really help to keep academics motivated to go the extra mile when they reach out to public audiences” Heather Ndlovu, lecturer and research uptake manager at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe
Points to think about
Does your university have a policy on research communication? Is it up to date and well known to the researchers on your staff? If not, is there a need for this and can/should you play a role?
Are there any other institutional or national policies or support mechanisms that encourage (or discourage) researchers in terms of both scholarly and public communication?
“Research communication should be incentivised by providing internal grants for researchers and providing training to those who obtain these grants. Also, research communication should be included as a criterion for funding in all new research proposals.” Letshwiti Tutwane, lecturer at University of Botwana, Botswana