Image by Joanna Kosinska

Scholarly Storytelling: Compelling Research for an Engaged Public

Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience. Yet many of the methods academics use to communicate their research are based on patterns established within the academy, primarily to convey new information to an already engaged set of scholars. They usually don’t make use of storytelling techniques that can engage broader audiences in more fundamental ways, and that can potentially communicate more information in a comprehensive and succinct way.

When much of the public gets information (and misinformation) from sources that already use narrative forms, and base their understanding of the world on the stories they learn in this way, how can scholars break through to help facts and nuanced perspectives to take hold?

Can we expand our understanding of “scholarly communication” to include narrative methods that may be better able to reach more diverse audiences, and to engage them as stakeholders and not just recipients of information? How might academics use storytelling to build bridges with constituencies that normally don’t feel connected to universities, and who may even feel antipathy to them? How could new technologies be used to engage broader publics in deeper ways? How can scholars use the storytelling techniques of fiction writers, journalists, filmmakers, photographers, visual artists, musicians, and game designers to effectively and accurately convey scholarly information? What can be done to prevent this from being perceived as simply diluting the authoritativeness of complex research? How do we know when we’ve crossed the boundary from information to persuasion? When is crossing that boundary a bad thing, and when is it a useful thing? Can we diversify the ecosystem of scholarly communication without disrupting constructive symbiosis?

This year’s Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute invites teams to explore these and other questions related to storytelling in scholarly communication – to develop plans, to test processes, to come to agreements, and to launch initiatives. SCI is an ideal place to bring together perspectives and expertise that may not normally intersect, and to build understandings and new models based on them. We encourage pragmatic, proactive optimism, and hope stakeholders in the scholarly publishing ecosystem will use SCI as a platform to nurture positive change.

Some ideas for potential participants, teams, and projects:

  • bring together journalists, storytellers, artists, and academics to learn from each other’s practices and develop scholarly communication models that combine the best of all their approaches.
  • bring together practitioners, policymakers, teachers, and others who could benefit from more access to and better understanding of scholarship, to help inform authors, publishers, and universities about different ways of reaching them and supporting their needs.
  • how could academics help challenge “fake news” with more compelling storytelling of actual research?
  • how do we tell better stories about what we already do in libraries and publishing, to help get existing publications and formats into different channels and in front of different audiences, such as the general public, policymakers, and journalists?
  • how can we build stories that convince people to be stakeholders, not just consumers – so that they help support scholarship and scholarly communication infrastructure (like open access journals) financially so it can be sustained over time? What techniques do other non-profit cultural organizations like museums, public radio, and others use to build a community of supporting stakeholders?
  • include members of communities underrepresented or disadvantaged in research and academia, to help understand the difficulties they face, the reasons why this continues, and how to help ensure that scholarly communication is inclusive and free of bias, both in existing and emerging publication models.
  • include participants from different types or organizations and different countries and cultures, to learn from their contexts and develop new models that are attuned to approaches that could engage effectively with these communities.

All of the above are only suggestions to spark ideas that you might use in your own proposal. We hope you will bring your own perspective and address needs of your community or communities you work with, and that you will be creative in engaging with others who have different perspectives that could complement or serve as a helpful foil to your own.

If you’re interested in participating, please see and reply to this Request for Proposals (submission deadline is 10 April 2017).


[ Image by Joanna Kosinska – used under CC 0 license ]