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Open Access Charting a course to an emerging field of 'research engagement studies': A conceptual meta-synthesis

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The past decades in the UK have witnessed renewed interest by policymakers, research funders and research institutions in the engagement of non-academic individuals, groups and organizations with research processes and products. There has been a broad consensus that better engagement leads to better impact, as well as significant learning around understanding engagement and improving practice. However, this sits in tension to a parallel trend in British higher education policy that reduces the field to a narrow definition of quantitatively measured impacts attributed to individual researchers, projects and institutions. In response, this article argues for the mobilization of an emerging field of 'research engagement studies' that brings together an extensive and diverse existing literature around understandings and experiences of engagement, and has the potential to contribute both strategically and conceptually to the broader impact debate. However, to inform this, some stocktaking is needed to trace the different traditions back to their conceptual roots and chart out a common set of themes, approaches and framings across the literature. In response, this article maps the literature by developing a genealogy of understandings of research engagement within five UK-based domains of policy and practice: higher education; science and technology; public policy (health, social care and education); international development; and community development. After identifying patterns and trends within and across these clusters, the article concludes by proposing a framework for comparing understandings of engagement, and uses this framework to highlight trends, gaps and ways forward for the emerging field.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Research for All is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on research that involves universities and communities, services or industries working together. Contributors and readers are from both inside and outside of higher education. They include researchers, policymakers, managers, practitioners, community-based organizations, schools, businesses and the intermediaries who bring these people together. The journal highlights the potential in active public engagement for robust academic study, for the development of involved communities, and for the impact of research. It explores engagement with different groups and their cultures, and features theoretical and empirical analysis alongside authoritative commentary to explore a range of themes that are key to engaged research including the development of reciprocal relationships, sector-specific communication and participatory action research. The journal is co-sponsored by the UCL Institute of Education and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

    Research for All is supporting the 16th International conference for Public Communication of Science and Technology being held in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, 26–28 May 2020. Authors of contributions presented at the conference are invited subsequently to submit papers to Research for All for a special feature on Public Communication of Science and Technology.

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