I’m in Washington, D.C. for a social work conference, and yesterday I participated on a panel as part of the SSWR‘s Roots and Wings Roundtable series. The conversation was about alternative modes of sharing scholarship beyond the traditional academic audience of peer review journals.

I really enjoy these conversations and this one was no exception. There were many important points made and I wanted to highlight some of the questions and concerns that were raised:

  • The feedback loops that scholars can receive when sharing their research in the communities they are studying can be constructive (e.g. you’re going the wrong way, asking the wrong questions) and generative (i.e. here is what we want you to study). In my work, I have benefitted from both constructive and generative feedback.
  • Does depth and complexity get lost in communication beyond academic outlets? I think it can, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, Twitter and Facebook platforms may good for short bursts of information but consider their strengths and use them as information delivery modes. Twitter is great for announcing your work out to the public, for recruitment for study participants, and to form relationships with others – including other academics, community members, journalists who might be interested in helping you reach a broader audience, as well as the general public. You can direct people to where they can access the full research, either at your personal blog, your institution’s faculty page, the website for the research lab, etc. I use these alternate modes to bring people to my sites where they can get access to the full research.
  • When academics write Op/Eds, blog posts, or similar types of publications they can experience negative emails, harassment, etc. When I was first blogging at Harlow’s Monkey, I often received very negative comments and emails. One of the participants of our session did a Sarah Silverman when receiving negative responses to an Op/Ed. We now live in an era of doxxing and stalking and trolls, and these are serious concerns. There are different ways of handling this; one of my close friends was doxxed and harassed because of her outspoken presence on her work on race, gender, dis/ability in social media and her publications. Conservative and alt-right organizations targeted her and this is an unfortunate reality of these times. It can be frightening and intimidating. We need to understand this could happen. Journalists could write stories with specific agendas. Institutions have a responsibility to help support faculty here, and there is a lot of work to be done in this regard.
  • Related to this point about institutions – one of the questions we posed was how can/should institutions facilitate open channels and how can/should they value communication and engagement beyond academia? This generated a lot of discussion. Some highlights: institutions are going to need to change, and part of this includes changing what is considered valued for promotion and tenure. We discussed how scholars can show impact (quantitative measures related to their outreach/social media/OpEd production and qualitative measures in terms of community feedback). We also talked about pushing back somewhat and the importance for who are tenured and/or have institutional power to advocate for these alternative ways of dissemination and engagement and, as one person pointed out, in new ways of collecting and analyzing data as well. In my opinion, bureaucratic institutions are always going to be slower to respond to new ways of doing things by the nature of being a bureaucracy. But I’ve had great experiences with my institution in terms of feeling supported to continue my practice of participating in open channels, and my institution has also provided me with support and technical assistance. For example, I participated in our university’s research lightening talk series, which they video and put on the UWT YouTube channel. I attended a UW Seattle workshop on engaging the public and media. I’m also in a department where my work and presence in these areas are recognized and valued. And whenever possible I share and promote the publicly engaged work of other social work scholars via their websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, and OpEd publications, in part to show the wide variety and depth of work that is being produced.


I could not, and would not, be where I am today without having spent so much time engaging with the community and learning from them about what they want and need in terms of the research being conducted on them. I’ve benefitted in more ways than I can articulate. I’ve been supported by my community, in part because I have listened to what their concerns are, and tried to ask the questions they ask. But I think I’ve also been a benefit to the community through my research, which for me is the aim. It is my hope that my research only further impacts my communities by helping to provide information and tools that they can then use to affect change.

Many thanks to Laina Y. Bay-Cheng (University at Buffalo) for convening this session, and my co-panelists Tina Barr (University of Minnesota), Sarah Goodkind (University of Pittsburgh) and Desmond Patton (Columbia University) and all of those who attended.


2 thoughts on “Open Channels: If, When, and How to Communicate Social Work Research Beyond Academic Outlets

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