Scholars are responding to a social imperative to make their research accessible to a wider audience outside the university campus. Universities are increasingly including public engagement among their strategic priorities, and in recent years funding agencies have placed particular importance on engagement with the wider community. In 2011, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council released its knowledge mobilization strategy based on “the need for prompt action to implement measures designed to strengthen the practice of knowledge mobilization leading to intellectual, social and economic impact.” As recently as January of 2015, the National Endowment for the Humanities introduced The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which is “an agency-wide initiative of the [NEH] designed to demonstrate the critical role humanities scholarship can play in our public life.” Their “hope is to encourage humanities scholars and organizations to turn their attention toward public life … the initiative invites humanists to engage in illuminating the grand challenges that we now face as a nation.” There is widespread recognition of the ethical and sociopolitical imperative of creating meaningful relationships between scholars and their respective communities. How do we create “knowledge mobilization” when modern public life may seem remote from classical, medieval, and renaissance studies? How do we make the imperative of community engagement more relevant to our scholars?
How to move from imperative to implementation is not so clear. Many questions remain. What constitutes public engagement? Service and outreach are typically conceived as one-way approaches to delivering knowledge and service to the public, whereas engagement emphasizes a two-way approach in which institutions and community partners collaborate to develop and apply knowledge to address societal needs (Boyer, 1996; Kellogg Commission, 1999) (quoted in Weerts and Sandmann 632). The possibilities for new, digital modes of dissemination add to our imperative as we feel pressed to assert the continuing relevance of the humanities (Kee 2014). Discussion of knowledge mobilization is bound up with questions of impact, assessment, and our understanding of what constitutes scholarly output at key career points (Lamont 2009, Fitzpatrick 2011). Once we have created plans and programs for engaging audiences outside the academy, how do we measure the impact of these initiatives? In the use of social media especially, we need to determine what forms of public engagement are meaningful, worthwhile, or even appropriate. Are the number of likes, followers, and shares really a determiner of success, or are there are other methods of determining impact? Is it possible to quantify impact, or do we seek other indicators of success in knowledge mobilization?
– Elyn Achtymichuk
Boyer, E. “The scholarship of engagement.” Journal of Public Service and Outreach 1.1 (1996) 11–20.
“The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square.” National Endowment for the Humanities 15 Jan. 2015. <http://www.neh.gov/commongood> Web. 26 Jan.2015.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York University Press, 2011.
Kellogg Commission. “Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution.” Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. New York: 1999. Web.
Lamont, Michèle. How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2009.
“NEH Chairman Adams Announces Common Good Initiative.” National Endowment for the Humanities 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Jan.2015.
“SSHRC’S Knowledge Mobilization Strategy.” Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 2009-11. Web. 27 March 2015.
Weerts, David J. and LorileeR. Sandmann. “Community Engagement and Boundary-Spanning Roles at Research Universities.” The Journal of Higher Education 81.6 (2010) 632-657.