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Unlocking Impact: Public Engagement Examples for Social Scientists and Humanities Scholars

January 13, 2024

A photo of a laptop screen that features a Youtube channel as a public engagement example for social scientists and humanities scholars.

An Overview of Public Engagement Examples for Social Scientists and Humanities Scholars

In the ever-evolving landscape of academia, the call for scholars to engage with the public is more resounding than ever. A common question from scholars interested in expanding their research impact is: what are some ways I can/should publicly engage? What are tangible public engagement examples for social scientists and humanities scholars?

I find that many scholars go straight to the written word – usually in the form of an op-ed, but could be as simple as sharing recently published research papers via their social media accounts. 

While op-eds and social media are powerful tools, they may not serve the messenger or the audience. There are many options and mediums through which academics in the social sciences and humanities can actively participate in public engagement.

Setting Goals for Public Engagement

Before moving forward with public engagement efforts, you should establish communication and research goals – what is the purpose of this endeavor? – is a good starting point. Considering how the knowledge deficit model may impact your communication goal, introspection could be in order. Once your goal is set, you can begin to think about who your audience is and where they are (so you can better select an outlet in order for your message to effectively reach them).

In this post, we will take you through public engagement examples for social scientists and humanities scholars, from podcasts to media pitching.

  1. Podcasting
  2. Public Lectures and Talks
  3. Artistic Expression
  4. Video Series
  5. Blogs and Newsletters
  6. Social Media
  7. Participation in Public Forums and Debates
  8. Create an Online Community
  9. Launch a Website
  10. Pitch Your Research to The Media

10 Public Engagement Examples for Social Scientists and Humanities Scholars 

1. Podcasting:

Scholars can create podcasts that explore their research, discuss relevant social issues, or even conduct interviews with experts and practitioners in their field. This format allows for a more intimate connection with the audience, bringing research to life through conversations. You can also pitch your research ideas to current podcast host to be a guest (check out Matchmaker.fm)

Example: A history professor explores untold stories from the past related to a niche or unique throughline, narrating episodes that shed light on forgotten events or perspectives.

2. Public Lectures and Talks:

Scholars can take their expertise to local community centers, libraries, or schools through public lectures. Engage with a local audience by presenting your research in an accessible and engaging manner – that is relevant to their daily lives or connected to a local topic or current news.

Example: A sociologist delivers a lecture on the impact of a new highway development on the local community, discussing various long-term sociological and environmental impacts, offering a perspective the community may not have previously considered.

3. Artistic Expression:

Scholars in the humanities can use creative forms like poetry, visual arts, or performances to convey complex ideas. Artistic expressions in the form of street art, curated exhibits, short videos, etc. can speak volumes with the right message. This unique approach invites a broader audience to connect emotionally with scholarly themes.

Example: A visual art scholar collaborates with an environmental scholar to create a display of recycled materials to highlight the impact of recycling (or lack thereof) on climate change.

4. Video Series:

Scholars can create a video series highlighting in-depth research or knowledge of a particular topic. Host it online via Youtube. TikTok or other similar hosting site. This approach can help break down barriers of entry, introduce the viewer to new cultures, and promote an evolving conversation around the topic.

Example: A foreign languages scholar breaks down the etymology of words, showcasing how certain words connect across and between cultures.  

5. Blogs and Newsletters:

Scholars can create their own online research journal in the form of a blog, where research ideas, discoveries, insights, and evolution are recorded for public consumption. Blogs and newsletters can help introduce topics on a deeper level and also encourage two-way communication via comments (be warned – there may be vitriol. The internet can be a cruel place). Write a guest post for a similarly positioned blog such as your discipline’s website or your university’s research blog.  

Example: A history scholar writes a short daily ‘this day in history…’ blog, connecting it to the news of the day, or simply sharing a snippet of history. 

6. Social Media:

Leverage the power of social media platforms to reach a larger, more general audience. Scholars can share bite-sized insights, engage in discussions, and conduct live Q&A sessions. Video abstracts, infographics, graphs, images, and the likes can help you convey the research message to your audience (remember to keep the research jargon to a minimum). Public engagement via social media can foster a robust conversation and dynamic online community around your research. It can also foster vitriol, so buyers, beware. 

Example: A higher education researcher shares quotes and stories as he completes qualitative interviews for a study on the impact of student loans on the borrower. 

7. Participation in Public Forums and Debates:

Engaging in public forums, panel discussions, or debates on relevant topics is a hyper-local way to embrace public engagement. By bringing expertise to public spaces, scholars can contribute to informed public discourse and address misconceptions or concerns related to your research or discipline.

Example: A sport administration researcher participates in a community open forum on the existence of Native American mascots at a local public high school. 

8. Create an Online Community:

Connecting practitioners and researchers can be a powerful way to engage with the public. Online community development involves bringing together a group of people (usually unknown to each other) over a common theme. (Think about the number of Facebook groups you may be a part of). Online communities can serve as a bridge between two worlds – theory and practice – without imposing theoretical perspective, but instead promoting collaboration and two-way learning. Community development requires intentionality, established goals, and community development to create an active community who benefits from being a member of the community. Here are some pointers on how to launch an online community from Hubspot

Example: Developing a community for scholars and practitioners to connect, developing themed channels for specific topics and exchanges. 

9. Launch a Website:

While this example may be perceived as an indirect form of public engagement, professional websites can hold many purposes. A website can be home to a blog, research, CV, social media feed, data, and/or media kit. Or it can simply host snippets of content related to research. Whatever route one may take, start with determining the outcome of the website; that is, what do you want your visitors to walk away with upon visiting your website?

Example: Running a catch-all website with research, CV, projects, consulting, etc. for interested readers. 

10. Pitch Your Research to The Media:

Utilizing the media to convey your research message is an effective and large-scale approach to public engagement. You can pitch your research ideas to journalists or pitch an op-ed, for example. Journalists are constantly looking for quotes from experts, story ideas, and exclusive information. This may require a bit of time and timing on your part, but the investment can be well worth it.

Example: A forensic musicologist pitches his expertise to a journalist who has written about legal cases facing the music industry.

The avenues for public engagement for social scientists and humanities scholars are as diverse as the disciplines themselves. It is a matter of your own comforts, communication style, who your audience is and where they get their information, and your research objectives. Yet, embracing this diversity will not only broaden the impact of research but also enrich your academic journey by fostering meaningful connections with a wider audience. 

As scholars, the challenge lies not only in the depth of our research but also in the breadth of our engagement with the world beyond the ivory tower. And if you are ready to get started, schedule your free strategy session with us today! 

How do you plan to engage with the public in your field? We are eager to hear about outstanding examples of public engagement in your area of expertise!

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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