Directors of UMass Amherst Public Engagement Project Explain How Scholars Can Better Share Research with Non-Academic Audiences

Global coronavirus pandemic creates critical need for researchers to engage with journalists, policymakers, practitioners and advocates
from left, Amy Schalet, Linda Tropp and Lisa Troy
from left, Amy Schalet, Linda Tropp and Lisa Troy

AMHERST, Mass. – With the United States and the world facing an unprecedented health and financial crisis due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and with universities scrambling with budget shortfalls, the past and present directors of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Public Engagement Project say that there has never been a more pressing moment for researchers to demonstrate their tangible value to communities and the public at large.

In “Making Research Usable beyond Academic Circles: A Relational Model of Public Engagement,” a new paper published online in the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, UMass Amherst’s Amy Schalet, Linda Tropp and Lisa Troy chart a new pathway for researchers seeking to share their research with non-academic audiences, such as journalists, policymakers, practitioners and advocates. They urge scholars to engage in relationship building and mutual learning, as well as partnership during the dissemination of research in order to give it salience and practical value to non-academic audiences.

“We wanted to use our collective experiences engaging with non-academic groups to help other researchers who want to use their research help make the world a better place, but may not know how to get started” says Schalet, former director of the Public Engagement Project and associate professor of sociology at UMass Amherst.

Schalet and her colleagues have worked closely with University Relations at UMass Amherst to engage with a variety of external audiences, communicating the value of UMass faculty expertise to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond.

The model is grounded in the three co-authors’ engagement with a range of non-academic groups, including educators, health professionals, policymakers, policy advocates, journalists, lawyers and community-based organizations. It also reflects their work through the Public Engagement Project, which supports and trains academic scholars in using research to promote the public good.

The authors recommend that usable knowledge helps non-academic partners pursue their own goals, that shared values can help forge common ground with non-academic audiences and that the form of presentation matters for giving research legs outside of academic circles.

Tropp, a professor of social psychology, is a current Public Engagement Project co-director, and Troy, assistant professor of nutrition, is the current director of the Public Engagement Project Fellowship, which has trained 45 UMass Amherst faculty members from across the natural and social sciences, humanities, public health, education and engineering.

The authors hope that their article can be an aid to faculty who may feel especially motivated at this time of great need in our local, national and global communities to share scholarly knowledge with stakeholders outside the academy.

The report, “Making Research Usable beyond Academic Circles: A Relational Model of Public Engagement,” is available to subscribers online via Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy or by contacting Schalet directly with a request for the paper’s PDF. More information about the UMass Public Engagement Project and downloadable resources for getting started on public engagement can be found on the program’s website at www.umass.edu/pep.