To be an open researcher is more than simply openly sharing research papers. Marcel Bogers and Ian McCarthy draw on their research on open practices in business research to outline four ways of leveraging social media to be more ‘open’ as a researcher, the potential trade-offs this can entail, and how it can help forge connections beyond the ‘ivory tower’.
Creating impact through research is the prime aim of most academics. However, considering academic impact, it is estimated that only 68 per cent of social sciences research papers get cited, but only 20 per cent of these are read by the academic community.
In terms of practical impact, a survey asking business school professors how their research is impacting society revealed that only a third felt that their institutions reward efforts to engage outside academia. Another third said their institutions provided no rewards or acknowledgements for their research having external impact. Such findings are evidence of the ‘crisis of relevancy’ academics face in some areas of the social sciences, resulting in the creation of initiatives to help produce research that matters more to society.
For academic openness
Whilst openness is often proclaimed as an academic virtue, we wanted to explore how being open can play out differently for different kinds of research and researchers. In our recent article we provide a guide for why and how researchers could use social media as a boundary-spanning technology to do more engaged and impactful research. Taking inspiration from the open innovation process model, in which firms leverage external sources of innovation through phases of obtaining, integrating and commercializing, we present a process model (i.e. a series of stages) that outlines how researchers can leverage social media in their work. While many will acknowledge the opportunity to use social media disseminating research finding, we also highlight the potential for interacting with other to exchange information (networking), exploring, formulating and choosing a research problem (framing), determining the research setting, data and methods (investigating), and considering the implication of research for society (assessing). We explain how social media can be used as a digital technology to attain “academic openness.” This is a research orientation that leverages insights and expertise from different academic and non-academic stakeholders to help co-design, co-produce, and co-assess research that advances academic inquiry and societal impact.
Types of openness
We also identify four approaches to being a social media-enabled open academic: observer, connector, promoter, and influencer, and outline some dos and don’ts for engaging in each approach (see Table 1 for an overview of some the main points). The four approaches represent a continuum of different levels of social media use and pursuit of academic openness, starting with the observer approach, the most passive social media use with limited openness for engaged impact, and ending with the influencer approach, the most active and open of the four approaches.
Which approach is best will depend on the researcher. How motivated are they to pursue engaged scholarship? Does their institution and academic discipline recognise and reward such scholarship? Where are they in their career and which role do they see for themselves within their community? How comfortable are they using social media for engaged scholarship? How much time do they want to spend doing this? A researcher can engage in more than one approach at any time and in multiple approaches over time.
Table 1: Approaches to social-media-enabled academic openness
Not all research projects will benefit in the same way from social media-enabled openness. When starting a research project, consider whether its scope has the potential to have societal impact, and whether engagement with a greater range of stakeholders and expertise will help to develop and answer important questions. When completing a research project, consider the perceived credibility and utility of the research outputs, as not all research outputs are necessarily worthy of the time and effort. And if a research output is deemed to be important and useful, there is likely to be value in engaging in the promoter and influence approaches. But also note that research can sometimes have negative or adverse societal impact, especially if it turns out to be flawed.
We also discuss some dark sides of social media-enabled openness, complementing other potential costs of public engagement. One of the biggest disadvantages— and we do sometimes fall into this track ourselves — is how time-consuming it is to use social media to be a more open academic. We suggest that dealing with this concern requires the same disciplined, goal-directed time and attention management that is central to most forms of work. So, in line with your research goals, determine what a time limit should be, and constrain or track the time spent doing the different approaches in Table 1. Recognise that when you start a research project, or when you are between projects, you may engage in the observer and connector approaches more heavily. And when you produce research outputs worthy of attention, you might shift to the promoter and influencer approaches. You might even outsource the activities needed for these approaches to a member of your research team or to a communications office in your school.
Table 1 lists dos and don’ts for each of the approaches. The number and complexity of these points of advice increase the more active and open the approach is. One of our favorites is: don’t neglect rigour integrity and nuance when engaged in the promotor approach. Be guided by good scholarship, and avoid journalistic sensationalism, exaggeration and hyperbole. We also highlight the importance of using compelling images, videos and captions for the platform and the desired audience outcome to be an effective influencer.
Our profession is often referred to as an Ivory Tower. This depicts a place where we are cut off and protected from parts of the world to pursue uncontaminated academic inquiry. However, this protected place can also lead to an insular closedness, and poorer understanding of the world’s problems and our ability to address them. As even Ivory Towers have the internet, our article provides guidance on how researchers can use social media to produce rigorous research contributions that advance an academic field, but without being so immersed in it that we forget our goal of expanding knowledge to benefit society.
This post draws on the authors article, The open academic: Why and how business academics should use social media to be more ‘open’ and impactful, published in Business Horizons (Open access version available here: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4104591)
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Image credit: Reproduced with permission of the authors.