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Leveraging Media, Social and Otherwise to Connect Public Administration Research to Practice

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Michael R. Ford
June 4, 2018

How do I make my work relevant? If you are a public administration scholar or student, you have likely asked yourself this question. Even the most rigorous research with the most potential to make a positive impact is irrelevant if nobody sees it. Thankfully there are deliberate and relatively painless steps academics can take to connect their research to practice.

But first, why should academics even care about connecting their research to practice? As an applied field, Public Administration risks irrelevance if scholars fail to connect research to practice. Worse yet, the failure to translate academic research to practice cedes the Public Administration research function to think takes and advocacy groups who may employ less rigorous methods and make broad policy and management recommendations not fully supported by their research.

Utilizing media tools to connect your research to practice first requires putting your work in a format that is accessible to the public. Academic work stuck behind a pay wall is likely inaccessible to most practitioners. A good place for researchers to start is producing a blog post or op-ed summarizing their academic research paper. Yes, academics are busy and may not have time for something that does not strengthen their tenure case, but in the context of the time that goes into an academic article, another few hours of work is minimal.

A good blog post or op-ed will be about 600 words. Long enough to get your major points across, but not too long to risk losing the reader. It is not easy to keep it short when summarizing a complex piece of research. I find it helpful to summarize the main takeaway from my paper in no more than one or two sentences in the first paragraph. If readers have questions about the specific methodology or theory, they can refer to the actual paper. The blog post or op-ed is merely an entry point, so always be sure to include instructions on how to access the full piece of research. Or, better yet, produce a more in-depth summary document geared to the practitioner that is not behind a pay wall.

Once the research paper is summarized via a blog post or op-ed, it is time to disseminate your work so that practitioners have a chance to see it. Essentially, the blog post or op-ed needs to be passed around. Step one is social media. Twitter and Facebook are great venues to serve as an echo chamber for your work. Tweet a link to your blog post or op-ed. Tweet it at fellow academics or practitioners that may have use for it. Re-tweet similar work with a link to your own. Do not be afraid to tweet about the same work multiple times if it is relevant to a current issue. While tweeting makes the distribution of your work unpredictable, it puts it in the public sphere, making its potential relevance infinite.

Traditional media is also still important. One of the great things about studying Public Administration is that our research topics are often relevant to current events. Send those blog posts and op-eds to reporters who write about your subject area. Let them know what you are working on and let them know that you are always willing to talk with them about issues within your area of expertise. Of course, that means the reporters might call.

When you are interviewed by media make sure you are prepared. Create a loose script based on the questions you think they will ask. Often reporters are looking for a simple quote to summarize a complex issue, so try to construct that quote ahead of the interview so it is ready to go. Try to keep things simple but be careful about rambling or exaggerating (the two tend to go together). And never be afraid to say, “that is beyond my scope of expertise.”

Finally, be proactive in introducing yourself to local government and nonprofit agencies that might be interested in your work. If you are embarking on a new project engage with agenices on the front end by asking them what type of research they would like to see. Some will be receptive and some will not, but at the very least the connection will be established.

Collectively these tips are designed to helps researchers build their brand as an expert. Though putting your work in the public sphere opens you up to critisim, or being labeled an attention seeker, a little bit of discomfort can go a long way to maximizing the impact of your work.

Author: Michael R. Ford is an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, where he teaches graduate courses in budgeting and research methods. He has published over two-dozen academic articles on the topics of public and nonprofit board governance, accountability and school choice. Prior to joining academia, Michael worked for many years on education policy in Wisconsin.



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