How do you make research more accessible?

One of my pet peeves in life is how rarely serious research is shared with lay audiences. There are many reasons for this, like overbearing publisher copyright policies and overburdened researcher duties, but I’m curious about creative solutions. What ideas do you have?

the YPP logoThis month, I’ve had the ridiculous opportunity to sit and read through the Youth & Participatory Politics corpus of research. YPP is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative. They study how young people use new media to become more civically and politically engaged people, and how online expression can become structural political impact. There are other deliverables, but I also want to use this opportunity to distribute and prepare this work for a broader audience.

These writings (full list below) are each worth reading in their entirety, but they also amount to 1600 or so pages. What are some good ways to integrate research findings into useful contexts for public audiences?

I’ve got a few ideas, but I’m eager for yours, too.

1. Edit relevant Wikipedia entries, and create new ones
Given Wikipedia’s SEO-granted status as de facto reference guide of the internet, it’s worth taking the time to integrate this research into relatively bare pages on big topics like civic engagement. Wikipedia’s own traffic is multiplied by the extent to which internet giants like Google and Facebook repurpose Wikipedia content (in Knowledge Graph and dynamically-generated Pages, respectively).

This approach makes the research accessible and broadens the potential audiences, but does assume people are already searching with similar terminology in mind, an assumption that gets tested by some academic phrases.

2. Create a living FAQ
Certain questions arise again and again in civic engagement research. Like, “Are young people today less engaged than previous generations were?” Concise summaries of the latest thinking on the answers to these questions could point to original documents to allow deeper divers. This FAQ could be lightly maintained over time as new works are published, or directly shared on sites like Quora.

3. Design compelling visuals
Whether videos or photos, the dominant language of the internet is increasingly a visual one, not text-heavy PDFs. Visual designers could create compelling guides to the flows of political, social, and economic power so eloquently described in this research. Academic diagrams that contain powerful ideas also contain lots of Powerpoint arrows. Seemingly aesthetic makeovers can make underlying truths more compelling.

Powerpoint overloadImage from a great The New York Times article

4. Tweet-length abstracts
I had this idea for sharing our Media Lab class’s theses. The wildly varying topics covered by Lab researchers make it difficult to be an expert in your friends’ domains (this is a feature of the Lab, not a bug). So we thought about asking our classmates to boil down everything they did to 140 characters, written for a non-expert audience, as a gateway to deeper exploration (or just a nice way to skim a multitude of titles).

Here’s a tweet-length annotated bibliography of the YPP research that attempts (and probably fails) to sum up each work succinctly and in non-expert terms:

Author(s) Title Tweet-length abstract
Danielle Allen Ai Weiwei and the Art of Protest Ai Weiwei’s in-your-face petitioning combines the artist’s voice with the citizen’s voice to deliver both expression and influence in China.
Carrie James The Digital Disconnect Coming of age in the network era brings new potential but also new ethical threats, including those to privacy, property, and participation.
Howard Gardner and Katie Davis App Generation Affordances provided by our increasingly app-driven worlds could enable us to achieve new heights or enslave us by restricting our choices.
Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light From Voice to Influence How are new media information and communications technologies transforming political life, and, by extension, political participation?
Jennifer Light Putting our Conversation in Context: Youth, Old Media, and Political Participation, 1800-1971 (From Voice to Influence chapter) The recent impacts of new technology may not be distinct from the history of young peoples’ use of new technologies to share political ideas. // History of youth expression using new technologies finds tech typically provides only a temporary window before adult gatekeepers close it.
Joe Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, Danielle Allen Youth, New Media and the Rise of Participatory Politics (From Voice to Influence chapter) Young people are re-purposing competencies and strategies that they are learning in the cultural realm for political goals
Tommie Shelby Impure Dissent: Hip-Hop and the Political Ethics of Marginalized Black Urban Youth (From Voice to Influence chapter) Hip hop’s political critiques are often impure dissent, but they allow meaningful expression in between ‘voice’ and unrealistic ‘exit’.
Cristina Beltran ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic’: DREAM Activists, Immigrant Politics, and the Queering of Democracy (From Voice to Influence chapter) Young immigrants break from traditional groups and use social media to creatively self-assert and re-humanize themselves in public debates.
Wendy Chun The Dangers of Transparent Friends: Crossing the Public and Intimate Spheres (From Voice to Influence chapter) The transparency of friend networks online demands we rethink concepts like collaboration, safety. Networks themselves are latent publics.
Danielle Allen Reconceiving Public Spheres (From Voice to Influence chapter) We can model complex public spheres as streams of discourse and begin to visualize how some expression alters structures, and others do not.
Archon Fung and Jennifer Shkabatur Viral Engagement: Fast, Cheap, and Broad, but Good for Democracy? (From Voice to Influence chapter) Political entrepreneurs initiate viral campaigns (Kony 2012, Trayvon Martin) and powerful interest groups respond and amplify their spread.
Ethan Zuckerman Cute Cats to the Rescue? Participatory Media and Political Expression (From Voice to Influence chapter) Popular social media platforms offer activists key affordances like built-in audiences and free hosting, but companies also govern speech.
Angel Parham and Danielle Allen For Rooted Cosmopolitanism and Equitable Self-Interest (From Voice to Influence chapter) We should protect disinterestedness, the capacity to make decisions in the interests of a larger group rather than one’s self or friends.
Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi An Outline of Cognitive Democracy (From Voice to Influence chapter) Diverse viewpoints allow for better democratic decisions, and new media allows experiments which can inform the design of our institutions.
Noelle McAfee Using New Media Politically (From Voice to Influence chapter) It’s important that democratic citizens see for themselves a robust role of engaged worldbuilding beyond protesting formal policy decisions.
Jennifer Earl and Alan Schussman Contesting Cultural Control In a movement society where the cost of protest is low, citizens readopt movement tactics to organize around popular and cultural concerns.
The Personal is Political on Social Media Even civically-engaged youth carefully consider how they express (or refrain from expressing) this part of their identities online.
Danielle Allen Toward Participatory Democracy The Port Huron statement established that we cannot be free without being equal. Political equality is much more than the right to vote.
Joe Kahne and Ellen Middaugh Digital media shapes youth participation in politics Educators must be prepared to play by the new rules of youth civic participation, where outlets for activism are peer created and directed.
Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, Nam-Jin Lee, Jessica Feezell Youth online activity and exposure to diverse perspectives Most youth report that the web exposes them to views like AND divergent from their own (or they don’t interact based on societal views).
Joseph Kahne, Nam-Jin Lee, Jessica Timpany Feezell Digital Media Literacy Education and
Online Civic and Political Participation
Digital media literacy education was found to be associated with increased online political engagement and exposure to diverse perspectives.
Joseph Kahne, Jacqueline Ullman, Ellen Middaugh Digital Opportunities for Civic Education Educators can take advantage of digital media to foster desired forms of civic and political engagement and development.
Joseph Kahne, Namjin Lee, Jessica Timpany Feezell The Civic and Political Significance of
Online Participatory Cultures among
Youth Transitioning to Adulthood
Youth engagement in nonpolitical interest-driven participatory cultures is positively related to participation in civic and political life.
James Croft “It’s Just a Game”—
Ethical Reasoning within Virtual Worlds
Interviews found some youth willing to scam others in World of Warcraft, ethically reasoning that a virtual world brought no real harm
Elisabeth Soep Next-Gen Public Sphere Citizenship in an era of networked identity and participatory politics requires modern literacies, which can be developed through interests.
Ellen Middaugh and Joseph Kahne Youth Internet Use and Recruitment
into Civic and Political Participation
The internet is the most common channel for youth to be recruited into political participation, and it can be an effective one.
Cathy J. Cohen and Joseph Kahne Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action  Survey finds youth taking advantage of participatory political practices in ways that amplify their voice and sometimes their influence.
Ellen Middaugh Service & Activism in the Digital Age
Supporting Youth Engagement in Public Life
New media can enhance civic education. Youth Led Organizing and Service learning have emerged as effective models for youth engagement
Neta Kligler-Vilenchik and Sangita Shresthova Learning Through Practice:
Participatory Culture Civics
“Participatory Culture Civics” organizations combine civic goals with the shared pleasures and flexible affordances of participatory culture
Arely M. Zimmerman Documenting DREAMs: New Media,
Undocumented Youth and the Immigrant
Rights Movement
New media present powerful ways for DREAM activists to mobilize their social networks given undocumented youths’ legal vulnerabilities.
Neta Kligler-Vilenchik “Decreasing World Suck”: Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics Tapping existing content worlds and producing new creative works can scaffold fan identities into civically-defined and -engaged citizens.
Liana Gamber Thompson The Cost of Engagement:
Politics and Participatory Practices in the U.S.
Liberty Movement
The Liberty Movement works with elite political institutions, but also embraces participatory channels like online communities.
Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport Digitially Enabled Social Change The web sharply reduces costs of organizing protests, and allows organizers to work asynchronously, across great distances, and even alone.
Howard Gardner In Defense of Disinterestedness in the Digital Era Disinterestedness is the capacity to look beyond one’s own interests and make decisions that are in the interests of a larger group.

What ideas do you have for sharing this research?

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