Course: Making Knowledge Public

A photo of a large university library, featuring lots of students at work

About the President’s Dream Colloquium

SFU’s President’s Dream Colloquium on Making Knowledge Public was both a public speaker series with leading thinkers and a seminar course open to students from the across the university. Taking place in fall 2018, it offered a unique opportunity to gain exposure to a cross-disciplinary network of academics, citizen scholars and government officials through invited public lectures and in-class guest instructors.

Making Knowledge Public provided a broad overview of the ways in which research makes its way into society. Through the public lectures, readings, and discussions, the course pushed emerging researchers to not take for granted the public value of their work. The course was premised on the belief that, in today’s climate, it is more important than ever for universities and researchers to assert themselves in the public sphere in more purposeful ways.

How You Can Contribute to Making Knowledge Public

The official lectures may have ended, but the community around Making Knowledge Public doesn’t have to. In the spirit of public scholarship, we’ve made all of the course readings, lectures, and assignments available online, so that anyone can engage with what we learned during the Colloquium. There are lots of ways to engage. You can enjoy work produced by the students on our course journal, watch any of the public talks online (streaming links copied below), or chime in on the discussion about our course readings using a tool called Hypothes.is. (There is a nice Hypothes.is “Quick Start Guide” to help you get going, and a good series of “annotation tips for students” that will help.)

Thank you for contributing to Making Knowledge Public.


Colloquium Outline

Introduction: Defining the public’s right to know (In-class lecture)

This class introduced the major themes covered in the Colloquium. What is the role of research in the public sphere? To what extent should (and do) parliamentarians use (or misuse) research in designing legislation? What is the role of open access research in building the public capacity for engaged discussion? By answering these and related questions, students gained an understanding and appreciation of how many different uses there are for research, as well as a basic understanding of how research is communicated.

Readings

Calling bullshit on fake news (Public talk)

Speaker: Dr. Jevin West, Assistant Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington, and co-instructor of the course

The 2016 election in the United States brought to the fore the concept of “Fake News”—the use of online articles that look like news to further individual and political agendas. These articles—generally filled with misinformation and suspect facts designed to stimulate online readership and advertising revenue—also drove much of the political dialogue in the U.S. election. This public dialogue looked at the issue of fake news and the role research can play in combating fake news, as well as the ways in which research is used by think tanks and special interest groups in ways that may contribute to the epidemic of “fake news.” The lecture explored how the public’s understanding of facts is being influenced by special interest groups, the role of think tanks in (mis)informing the public, and some ideas of how academia and ordinary citizens respond.

Watch the talk

Readings

For fun, try the first assignment of the Calling Bullshit Course. Try to keep A bullshit inventory. How much bullshit are you dealing with, anyway? Keep track of your encounters with bullshit over the course of a week, and come up with a way to visualize your results.

Part I: Research and Government

Value of research in public policy (In-class lecture)

Speaker: Dr. Nancy Olewiler, Acting Director, School of Public Policy, SFU

Despite the attacks on evidenced-based policy making, research, we hope, continues to play a vital role in shaping public policy. But how exactly is research used? How are researchers engaged? Where are there gaps in the process? And where can we find opportunities to strengthen the place of research in public policy? Dr. Olewiler engaged the audience on how public policy is informed by research, and on how government and the academic community work to in tandem to bring about social change and community development?

Readings

  • Cairney, P:  Webpage and related articles, e.g., “To Bridge the Divide between Evidence and Policy: Reduce Ambiguity as Much as Uncertainty” or “Evidence-based policymaking is not like evidence-based medicine, so how far should you go to bridge the divide between evidence and policy?”
  • Sheikh, M. (2016) Evidence-based policy development: A framework and its application, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, Policy Brief. (optional)
  • Townsend, T. & B. Kunimoto (2009). Capacity, Collaboration and Culture, The Future of the Policy Research Function in the Government of Canada, Policy Research Initiative. (optional)
  • Juntti, M. Russel, D. & J. Turnpenny (2009). Evidence, politics and power in public policy for the environment, Environmental Science and Policy 12, 207-215. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2008.12.007
  • Strassheim, H. & Kettunen, P. (2014) When does evidence-based policy turn into policy-based evidence? Configurations, contexts and mechanisms, Evidence and Policy, 10, 259–77. DOI: 10.1332/174426514X13990433991320
  • Tangney, P. (2017). The UK’s 2012 Climate Change Risk Assessment: How the rational assessment of science develops policy-based evidence”. Science and Public Policy 44(2), 225-234. DOI: 10.1093/scipol/scw055 (optional)

Knowledge sharing and social responsibility (Public talk)

Speaker: Dr. Mario Pinto, Former President, NSERC

In this public talk, Dr. Pinto offered a vision of the next revolution in research—a vision constituting knowledge sharing on an unprecedented scale. Global challenges dictate the value – and arguably the urgent necessity – to build linkages between research, policy, and civil society to start a new revolution. Diversity of stakeholders, open dialogue, vision, and creativity will be critical to bring different points of view and increase the power of the line-of-sight. National and international collaborations will drive good science. New modalities for knowledge storage, access, and dissemination will also be essential, as will science literacy in the general population. Greater inclusion and equity, he maintained, will achieve the ultimate goal: To produce transformative knowledge and the social responsibility to apply this knowledge to global challenges and contribute to a greater good.

Watch the talk

Part II: Engaging the public in the research process

University-Community Connections (In-class lecture)

Speaker: Dr. Luke Terra, Director of Community Engaged Learning and Research (CELR) at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

Universities are increasingly looking to engage with the communities they are embedded in. Nowhere is this more explicit than at SFU, where the mission is explicitly to become Canada’s most engaged research university. Engagements can take many different forms, but in the idealized model of community-engaged research, researchers and community partners form mutually beneficial partnerships that both produces and applies knowledge. What can these partnerships look like? Despite being sought after by universities, are there appropriate incentives for faculty to do them? What is the evidence that community engagement benefits both academia and society?

Readings

Collaborating with indigenous communities in research (Public talk)

Speaker: Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School in British Columbia

Indigenous communities have long been central to the creation of academic research, but often this involvement has been limited to acting as a source of data with little agency over how community data is collected, represented, circulated, and used. Calls to decolonize and indigenize research practices have prompted initiatives to foster community-led collaborative research, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing into research design and cultural protocols into the curation and circulation of research results, cultural heritage materials, and traditional knowledge. This public talk invited the audience to consider: What best practices exist for engaging in reciprocal and collaborative research between Indigenous communities and researchers? What are the benefits to communities, faculty, and the public of participatory research? What affordances do online technologies provide to support digital repatriation of indigenous communities’ cultural heritage materials? How is access to traditional knowledge managed within and beyond a community?

Watch the talk

Readings

Understanding the public’s use of research through social media (In-class lecture)

Speaker (remote): Dr. Stefanie Haustein, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

Academics have been increasingly integrating online platforms and social media tools into their everyday practices.  As the process of dissemination begins to take place on these public platforms, there is enormous potential to capture and analyze their digital traces. Within academia, these traces are making their way into the evaluation of researchers, as social media metrics (also known as altmetrics) are made available for scholarly publications. But beyond evaluation, what can we learn about the circulation of research among the public by observing social media platforms?

Readings

Citizen science (Public talk)

Speaker: Shannon Dosemagen, Director, PublicLab.

From identifying galaxies to fighting bacteria and everything in between, crowdsourcing has proven to be an incredibly effective way to getting citizens involved in research. As the internet and commons-based peer-production enable the public to participate to research, it is imperative that citizens and researchers alike critically the relationship between the professionals and the amateurs to ensure that the public’s is empowered to make meaningful contributions in the work and in setting the research agenda. This talk talked such questions and more, allowing the audience to explore the benefits and challenges of citizen science, community science, and social science, and encourage us all to do more.

Watch the talk

Readings

Part III: Research in the public sphere

Why access matters (In-class lecture)

Almost half of the research that is published today is freely available to the public. Now that a substantial proportion of the research literature has been made freely and publicly available, we are in a position to assess the extent of public uptake of this body of work. Assumptions about the public utilization and benefit of such access have always been a part of the open access model. But does the public actually use the research? Where? And how? This lecture offered a look at the uses of public access to research,  helping students understand the importance of open access to community-engaged research and to citizen-informed public policy.

Global participation in knowledge production (Public talk)

Speaker: Dr. Hebe Vessuri, collaborating researcher at CIGA (Centro de Investigación en Geografía Ambiental), UNAM in Mexico; emeritus researcher from IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research)

Giving free access to research does not just provide access to the general public, it is also enables new opportunities for participation in the global knowledge exchange. Researchers from the Global South are able to have their research available next to research for the Global North, and everyone has the opportunity to read everyone else’s work, without the financial and logistic constraints of subscriptions. As research circulates freely and without borders, who sets the global research agenda? Who is able to participate? And on whose terms? How does open access amplify unheard perspectives?

Watch the talk

Readings

Critical approaches to open access (In-class lecture)

The benefits of openness were made clear throughout the course. However, we must also question whether openness on its own is enough to achieve the goals of a publicly engaged university. What about issues of ownership and control of scholarly publishing and academic technical infrastructure? Is open access threatened by cooptation from major commercial publishers who are adapting to open models but developing business models to preserve their oligopolic control and high profit margins? Is open always open, or is it sometimes merely “openwashing”, where only minimal levels of openness are being achieved? Are predatory publishers threatening the long-term viability of open access? And finally, are there circumstances when some information should not be openly available, such as to protect artifacts of vulnerable cultural groups.

Readings

The Future of the Public Mission of Universities (Public lecture)

Speaker: Dr. Robin DeRosa, Professor of English and Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University

Public universities are under constant pressures to operate more like corporations. Moreover, their role is being reduced to being the training ground for industry. Under such conditions, what is to happen to the central mission of public universities to serve the public to which they belong? Can open practices, including open access to research, open educational resources, and open pedagogy contribute to our efforts to articulate the public mission of the university?

Watch the talk

Readings

Bringing it all together (In-class lecture)

This final session discussed the value of making knowledge public. Are there any down sides? If not, why is it not a priority? What is holding us back, and what can be done about it? Students presented some of the work they did during the course and shared stories of the challenges and successes of making their own knowledge public.

Course Journal: Making Knowledge Public

photo of a notepad lying open on a desk

If we wish to make more knowledge public, then we must begin with our own work. During the course, students were required to attend lectures, participate (both online and in-class) in the course material, and produce several pieces of public scholarship to obtain first-hand experience with making their views of the world public.

Students shared their thoughts and perspectives on a variety of topics of their own choosing through blog posts, podcasts, youtube videos, op-eds or other public contributions to knowledge such as news comments or Wikipedia edits. Their final projects are available on the course journal, Making Knowledge Public