David Wilcox posts a link to “twelve academic reports about technology and everyday life in Europe”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/EMTEL/plan.html recently published by the “European Media and Everyday Life Network”:http://www.emtel2.org/ and suggests given their usefulness that a user-friendly version should have been written. Indeed it should but one could argue that it is not necessarily the role of the academic to produce such a summary.
To some extent the complexity of the language does stem from the fact that the papers are aimed directly at an academic audience and only indirectly at the wider public (as “Prof Roger Silverstone”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/rogerSilverstone.htm, one of the report’s authors, responded).
As far as I can make out there are four possible paths from academic research to policy:
- paper -> policy (rare – as papers are usually not widely read or readable outside their intended audience)
- paper -> journalist/writer -> policy (here is where hopefully someone like David Wilcox or myself might fit in)
- paper -> academically-trained civil servant -> policy (does this happen often? I hope so, but lack evidence)
- paper -> academics -> students who eventually become politicians/activists/journalists etc (the ‘mainstream’ way academic knowledge gets used – rather slow and indirect but, I hope, effective)
I would be curious to hear from my readers which road to academic policy influence is most effective and how academics with interest in policy could help the process along.
Getting back to these particular reports, many academic papers these days come with abstracts – a hundred words or so providing a summary of what the research has found – and often keywords as well, for integrating into databases. It is a shame that the ‘house style’ in this instance seems to be not to have such a summary. There are abstracts for the project reports but these are easy to overlook on the report web page and they are themselves several pages long.
David Wilcox’s observations point to a possible need for a second abstract for academic papers aimed at policy questions – one that tries to give the layman an idea of the paper’s findings without touching on the theoretical background- even if all that does is get the layman to ask an academic friend to take a look at it for them!