Section 1: Topic 2
Significant impacts that can arise from media management
Respondents were asked to describe significant impacts that can arise from media engagement, but the majority of answers described pathways to impact (engagement) rather than actual benefits (impacts). These included the generation of additional media or funding opportunities, new contacts with stakeholder organisations, new research collaborations (often with stakeholders), raised public profile for researchers and institutions, and improved student and researcher recruitment. One researcher suggested, “[Media engagement] gives you short, accessible publications to hand when you need to send someone something on a topic e.g. a practitioner asks for your views on something. Do you send them your peer-reviewed article, or do you send them a short newspaper article summarising your views/work?”.
Some significant impacts were identified however from media engagement. These included:
Uptake of research by stakeholder organisations (sometimes including co-funding for researchers via consultancy), leading to benefits for them or their clients, patients or others, for example applying findings in new operational contexts, developing new products, treatments or services, or increasing charitable donations.
Changes in public awareness, attitudes or behaviours, for example leading to museum visits or talking to their doctor about a new treatment option.
Influencing public policy by raising awareness of research among politicians or civil servants, or by making the researcher more visible and hence more likely to be invited to sit on or provide evidence to committees that guide policy. For example, one researcher responded, “At our institution, one academic did a huge amount of media after a particular incident relating to his research. As a result, the university was contacted by policy makers in this field who wanted to learn more about the research in question.”
Case Study: How media coverage raised awareness and drove action to stop the abuse of disabled children in the Australian education system
As a result, Dr Roy collaborated with Caroline Dock to research the mis-treatment of children with disabilities in education. They found that this was widespread and that despite awareness among advocates, academics and teachers, no real action from authorities appeared to be being undertaken. Government data showed there had been 350 complaints about abuse of children with disabilities in 2013 and their research highlighted that children with a disability were more likely to be assaulted. It was clear that there were systemic failings and Drs Roy and Dock realised they had to take action.
To raise awareness about the issues they had uncovered, they released their findings into the media. They contacted parents with affected children and one family, with a shocking experience, agreed for their story to be released. The media coverage was picked up by the Education Authority who initiated their own investigation.
In the meantime, Drs Roy and Dock used Twitter to pose questions to politicians and engage with journalists. This led to meetings with politicians from government and those in opposition, leading to a Parliamentary Inquiry which highlighted multiple cases of mistreatment of children. This in turn led to a number of education policy changes. For example, the Accreditation Authority changed how children with a disability are referred to, as ‘children with a disability’ rather than ‘special needs’ children. This represented a significant mindset change. They built on these impacts by maintaining public interest in the issue through newspaper coverage, putting pressure on the Government to review its budget for children with a disability. Their press office advised him on ‘best practice’ to maximise the impact of his media engagement.
Dr Roy explained, “Without media engagement, our work would not have gained traction and the impacts would not have been possible.”
Advising other researchers on how best to engage with the media to generate impact, he suggested, “It is important to know your narrative and play to your audiences, but don’t get caught up in the ego of it or the trolls. You have to play the long game. A lot of media engagement is about the here and now, but you need to have a clear long-term goal in mind if you want your engagement to actually yield benefits for the people you want to help.
“As academics, when our research uncovers injustice, we have a responsibility to raise awareness and drive change through our use of the media. If we don’t, we are culpable for the damage.”
Read The Conversation article about the research
Watch media coverage of the research