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Archive for April 13th, 2012

Are You a Marxist in Your Approaches to Research?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 April 2012

The Point Is To Change The World

Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is to change it” Karl Marx famously argued. But in the twenty-first century it is researchers rather than philosophers who have a higher public profile in seeking to understand the world. The question then is “is it the role of researchers to also change the world?

From my point of view I have been involved in various aspects of research for which the purpose of the research is to identify and develop best practices – and the purpose of this work is for such best practices to be embedded by practitioners. If the research output is seldom downloaded from an institutional repository (or, worse, is hidden behind publisher’s paywalls) it will be difficult for the work to achieve the goal of developing understanding and informing practice. Promoting the research is therefore, for me, an essential aspect of a researcher’s activities.

In a review of How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism by Eric Hobsbawm published in The Guardian suggested that “Marx’s celebrated over-statement attempted to build what might now be called an ‘impact requirement’“. This suggests that Marx’s quote may continue to be applicable in today’s research environment in which society expects to see evidence of the benefits of work which society (the tax-payer or the student fee-payer) pays.

But if, like me, you feel that researchers have some responsibility in seeing ideas produced through research processes, how might this be done?

Helping To Enhance Impact

Last month a post on this blog described a Paper Accepted for #W4A2012 Conference. The paper, on  “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” has been accepted for the W4A 2012 conference, the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility which takes place in Lyon on 16-17  April 2012. The paper is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility based on work led by myself and David Sloan, an accessibility researcher based at the University of Dundee.

This paper is co-authored with Martyn Cooper (the lead author, who is based at the Open University), Sarah Lewthwaite (based at King’s College London who was a co-author of our award-winning paper on Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World presented at the W4A 2010 conference) together with David Sloan.

In order to help to maximise the impact of the paper we have made it available from Opus, the University of Bath’s institutional repository.

Whilst providing open access to a research paper is a desirable goal, it is still a passive approach which does not necessarily help in seeing the ideas provided in a paper being widely adopted.

As part of a pro-active approach to sharing our ideas, myself and my co-authors have agreed to raise awareness of our paper across our professional networks through use of our preferred social media channels. In addition to this post Martyn Cooper has published a post on his contribution to the paper and Sarah Lewthwaite has mentioned the paper on her Slewth Press blog. We can also expect @martyncooper, @sloandr and @slewth talking about the paper on Twitter.

In addition to such blogging activities I have produced a 90 second video summary of my contribution to the paper, which, to allow the video to be easily embedded elsewhere, has been published on YouTube and is embedded below.

In addition to raising awareness of the paper we are also providing opportunities for the ideas described in the paper, including adoption of the BS 8878 Code of Practice For Web Accessibility, to become better understood by practitioners. EA Draffan, who was a co-author of one of our earlier W4A papers on “One World, One Web … But Great Diversity” will give a plenary talk on Beyond WCAG: Experiences in Implementing BS 8878at UKOLN’s forthcoming IWMW 2012 event. At the same event David Sloan will facilitate a 90 minute workshop session on Managing the Process of Providing an Inclusive Institutional Web Presence.

We also hope that the delivery of the paper at the W4A 2012 event on Monday 16 April will help to raise the visibility of our ideas, not only for the event participants but also by using Slideshare and, we hope, recording the presentation itself.

Your Thoughts

In a recent post on Marketing for Scientists Martin Fenner described how:

Scientists may feel uncomfortable about marketing their work, but we all are doing it already. We know that giving a presentation at a key meeting can be a boost for our career, and we know about the importance of maintaining an academic homepage listing our research interests and publications. And people reading this blog will understand that a science blog can be a powerful marketing tool.

I would be interested in other researchers’ views on approaches to maximising the impact of their work. Is this something which you feel is a fundamental aspect of research activities; is it something to be done, out somewhat reluctantly, perhaps due to departmental REF-related pressures or, alternatively, should researchers have a disinterested view of take-up of their ideas in order, say, to maintain one’s objectivity and detachment?  Comments are welcome. Alternatively feel free to complete the accompanying brief survey.

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