I have recently attended a number of events on the role(s) of Public engagement in the Arts and Humanities.
As a result I thought it might be useful to document some of the key issues that arose from these events, and some of the actions institutions and departments have been taking to deal with these challenges.
These are not exhaustive, nor final… just some of the more interesting points that arose from the discussions.
Benefits of Public Engagement
- New research outputs and collaborations – How does engaging the public change the nature of research outputs? Indeed, members of the public can do aspects of research that individual researchers are unable to do by themselves (e.g. Galaxy Zoo)
- Opening up new research areas – by involving the public can entirely new areas of research be uncovered?
- Dissemination - Engaged research is already embedded within communities and interested groups etc. Dissemination is a natural part and benefit of public engagement, not an add-on or after thought.
- Making research relevant – If we are sceptical of that which we do not understand, then our involvement in that work means it becomes important to us all, and we are able to better understand its benefits. At times of scrutiny (especially financial) that understanding can be extremely important.
Issues with Public Engagement
- ‘Self-defined’ engagement – Is this publicly instigated or research led engagement? What are the implications for engagement if it is always led and instigated by the researcher?
- Low institutional status – Angela Hobbs gave a fasinating presentation on her unique role as Senior Fellow for the Public Understanding of Philosophy. However, it was made very clear to Angela that this role would significantly hamper her chances of promotion and that in times of crisis hers could be the first to be cut! Why would early career researchers adopt engagement if it is bestowed with such low staus by many institutions (in practice, if not in spirit).
- Tension between research outputs and engagement – The low status of engagement often stems from this issue: It is hard to keep research outputs high and still effectively engage with the public. Usually it is the researchers career that suffers!
- Lack of recognition – Again, this follows from the lack of status within institutions, but engagement is not, generally, formally recognised within the academy. This is probably the biggest barrier to embedding public engagement within researchers work.
- Lack of best practice – Despite the fact that public engagement is not a new way of working (researchers have been working in this way for a long time) there is very little in the way of best practice and support for this type of research methodology. A few organisations, such as the National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, are however, working to change this.
Toughts for Funders
Is the way we fund engagement part of the issue? The project methodology is a possible barrier to the uptake and embedding of public engagement by researchers – when the funding ends, so does the engagement. Are there better ways of funding projects and research to engage outside of the academy?
Another issue that arises from the funding model is that researchers often lack the partnerships and collaborators prior to funding being available. Could funders provide small amounts of money to establish some of these engagements and relationships, before large amounts of money are spent on research.
A final thought is about Impact and public engagement projects/research: How do we measure the impact that community and public engagement projects have within both the academy and the community? indeed can we really measure it?
Should it be less about impact and evaluation and more about dissemination and best practice?:
You can count the number of seeds you sow; not the quality of the trees that will grow
The recently funded Community Content projects from JISC confront and address many of the issues that arose from the discussions and workshops at these events. Visit the project webpages to discover more.
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Over 2000 recordings by British and Irish Muscians have been digitised and made available online in a project by Kings College, London.
The Musicains of Britain and Ireland 1900-1950 project is allowing listeners and researchers to rediscover leading musicians who were once household names.
Most of the recordings are making their first public appearance since they came out on shellac over 60 years ago and are linked to a range of research resources about the history of recording to help people make the most of the collection.
The discs were selected specifically to highlight world-class British and Irish performers recorded between 1900 and 1950, especially artists neglected by the newly-formed EMI after the merger of the Gramophone Co and Columbia in 1931.
For more information about this project and to listen to some samples,visit the JISC webpages
All the tracks and many more are all available on the CHARM website.
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Having recently issued our Funding Call on impact & embedding of digitised resources now seems an appropriate point at which to reflect on some of the work JISC has done to investigate and facilitate the impact and usage of digital resources.
The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) recently submitted their Final Report on a workshop they undertook entitled: Digital History Workshop: Connecting Researchers to Digital Collections .
The workshop addressed some of the issues and outcomes from the OII’s JISC funded study: The Usage and Impact of Phase I Digitisation projects and Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources (TIDSR).
These issues can be broadly defined as:
- The difficulty in connecting with potential users (researchers, teachers, students and the public);
- In some disciplines (i.e. History), habits dictate that researchers and students are not enthusiastic about the use of online resources for their studies.
The workshops, undertaken over two days, attempted to focus on scholars and researchers who had an interest in learning how digital resources could enhance and potentially transform their research and work.
Focussing on early stage researchers in the second event, the workshop attempted to establish, and challenge attitudes to digital resources early on in the researchers career.
The workshops attempted to confront some of the barriers that are often noted in the uptake and continued use of these resources:
“Of key importance to these workshops, but in particular to the first workshop, was the combination of information sessions with reflective papers from key scholars working in various research areas, and the opportunity to ask questions both of custodians/creators of digital resources and of those already using these tools for academic research and teaching.”
By having prominant scholars demonstrating their use and research activities in connection with online scholarly resources, these workshops highlighted that: “Researchers are attracted to new methods and approaches most readily when presented with tangible and substantive examples from their peers and mentors“.
Furthermore, the TIDSR study and workshops highlight the importance of having multiple methods for seeking out information about users. This user research can help deepen our understanding of how these resources are used and embedded in the practices of teachers, students and researchers.
“We found during the TIDSR project that funding for monitoring usage and impact beyond the launch of digital resources is often limited, and it is therefore vital that such funds are put to the best use.”
Hopefully the funding for the 7/10 grant call: Impact and Embedding, can help address this recommendation/concern from the workshops and wider impact study.
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They represent every stage of her writing career and a variety of physical states: working drafts, fair copies, and handwritten publications for private circulation.
Digitization enables their virtual reunification and will provides scholars with the first opportunity to make simultaneous ocular comparison of their different physical and conceptual states, facilitating intimate and systematic study of Austen’s working practices across her career.
Many of the Austen manuscripts are frail; open and sustained access has long been impossible for conservation and location reasons.
The digital edition will include in the first instance all Jane Austen’s known fiction manuscripts and any ancillary materials held with them.
Visit the project website for more information.
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I recently blogged about the launch of the University of Exeter’s Digital Collections Online.
Some of the amazing images that were digitised and added to the repository demand to be highlighted in more depth.
With all the hype about Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland film, it seems appropriate to highlight the amazing collection of images that the archive holds on film and cinema (and the optical and visual more generally).
The image of Alice included in this piece, is taken from a box of slides that come originate in a Magic Lantern Collection.
This pre-cinematic invention used a series of slides that were projected onto a wall. Smallscale shows were put on by travelling lanternists using a candle to project the images.
Occassionally visual tricks were employed to engage and capture the audiences attention – not dissimilar to our ongoing fascination and the appeal of 3D at the movies!
But, the link between the past and present is not the only value of digitising and making these collections available online.
The collection held by Exeter is fascinating, not only for what it can tell us about the history of cinema and film; but also how the edges of each object and collection of objects touch upon, and overlap with other areas of study and research.
Many of the slide collections are incredibly rich resources for researchers and students looking not only at, for example, cinematic history, but also the subject matter and content of the images and objects themselves.
The project has attempted to provide preliminary pathways through some of the content by creating ‘curated’ collections and e-learning packages centred around certain themes.
It seems this collection cannot help but cross new boundaries and inspire new ideas and avenues of thought.
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There’s an interesting and well-illustrated (in the print version at least) article on the variety and strength on special collections in UK universities in the 7 May version of the Times Higher.
However, in focussing on the special collections as single curios, the article rather downplays the Importance that such collections can have within education.
What is one person’s eccentric oddity may actually form the spine of somebody else’s research. Moreover, put different special collections together and you might get some very interesting relationships building up, and a critical mass of primary source material to inform innovative and engaging teaching and research.
The Discmap project, managed by the University of Strathclyde, is looking precisely at these issues, studying the special collections within the UK’s universities and then developing priorities for digitisation. Its final report is due for publication in early Summer 2009, and should provide interesting food for thought and how future digitisation within the UK is taken forward.
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One of the key problems in getting widespread acceptance of digital resources has been the lack of a review process, as would happen to an article or a monograph.
Thus it’s heartening to note the Institute for Historical Research is specifically undertaking more reviews of digital resources on its webpages.
Three of the JISC projects have already been reviewed. The British Library’s 19th-century newspaper site is called “a wonderfully rich resource which has all the benefits of a well-funded, exhaustively researched project.“, the Cartoon Archive represents “an enormous step forward in making accessible a hitherto hidden resource.”
Meanwhile the First World War Poetry Archive is “one of the most comprehensive (if not the most comprehensive) archival sites on the web. It is also one of the best attempts to navigate the museum/archive/website divide that I have seen.” It should be noted the the reviews website also offers creators a chance to respond to their reviewers, as Stuart Lee from the poetry archive has done
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The National e-Science Centre (NeSC) has announced a new 5 day workshop on The Influence and Impact of Web 2.0 on e-research infrastructure, applications and users. The event is open to all and will be held between 23 March – 27 March at the e-Science Institute, 15 South College Street, Edinburgh.
Aimed at the e-research and e-science communities, as well as researchers in the arts and humanities, this five day workshop will introduce web 2.0 technologies, examine cloud-based computing, users and usability, application based activities, and on the final day will hold a more interactive session and discussion.
The number of Web 2.0 services and applications, widely used by Internet users, academics, industry and enterprise, are growing rapidly, which demonstrates Web 2.0′s solid foundations. These technologies and services are based on the open standards that underpin the Internet and Web, and are used in many forms, e.g. blogs, wikis, mashups, social websites, podcasting and content tagging. This field is having a significant impact on distributed infrastructure and applications, and on the way users and developers interact. The area needs to be thoroughly investigated and understood to encourage the development of new services and applications for e-Research.
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Not much time is left to register for the Digital Lives Research Project conference on 9-11 February 2009 at the British Library in St Pancras, London. It is the first Digital Lives Research Conference on Personal Digital Archives in the 21st Century. The conference is free, although only a limited number of places are available for each day.
The aim is to explore a wide range of aspects of digital lives and the curation of personal digital archives.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, it is a participatory and collaborative conference bringing together researchers, professionals, creators and the digital public: a conference in the character of 2.0.
The Conference and Conference Series will be inaugurated by Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library.
An introduction to the project and the conference gives some background to the project and usefully outlines the themes of the conference. A full programme and list of speakers is also available, and it is well worth checking out the projects blog for some interesting posts and more conference information. Further information is available through:
Digital Lives Research Conference
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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JISC, along with publishers ProQuest, Cengage and Adam Matthews Digital, were involved in a couple of round table sessions at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference at Oxford University.
The presentation given by Alastair Dunning of JISC is included here. Below that are some of the key points made by the academics present, and there is a longer pdf document to download with extended notes, which also includes some of the key resources in the area.
Key Feedback from the Roundtable Sessions
- Repeated call for standardised interfaces – “Every car I drive may be different, but I still know how to drive it without thinking. Why should it not be the same for website interfaces?”. There was also strong support for an eighteenth-century portal.
- Digitisation taken for granted – The advantages of having digital editions online (“you can work without putting your socks on”) are so obvious that there is little need to argue for them
- We need to know what’s there – “Does EEBO really contain every early English book? Or are there gaps that are not obvious to researchers and undergraduates?”
- How do we stop the digital divide – “Scholars from less wealthy institutions should not be isolated because their library cannot afford the subscription cost”
Download the full feedback from the session – 18th-century-resources-feedback-jan-2009.pdf