Western joins The Conversation to promote research-based journalism

Aiming to bridge the gap between the Ivory Tower and the general public, Western has committed to being a founding member of The Conversation Canada.

The Conversation, a daily independent news and analysis online publication, delivers expertise from the academic and research community directly to the public. In a not-for-profit collaboration, The Conversation editors work directly with academics and researchers to publish articles for a wide audience. The Conversation Canada is the sixth national edition of the global Conversation network.

Western’s involvement is part of its greater efforts toward knowledge exchange, said Juan-Luis Suárez, Associate Vice-President (Research).

“We created a new portfolio under my supervision, in which we tried to develop tools and relationships with researchers and partners outside the university to maximize the impact of the knowledge we create,” Suárez noted.

“What we are trying to do is create a direct channel between our researchers, the public and their audiences. We understand, in this new digital era, we are not only talking to academics. Academics are a very important audience for us, but we also have multiple audiences and publics. We want to reach them because we believe in the value of the knowledge our researchers create,” he continued.

“Basically, we are trying to empower our researchers by getting these partnerships so they can talk to the public that needs the knowledge they are creating.”

Since its launch in Australia in 2011, The Conversation has expanded to the U.K., the U.S., France and Africa, as well as a global site. The network has more than 85 commissioning editors and nearly 50,000-plus academics registered as contributors, of whom more than 400 are based in Canada. Each article is written by scholars in their area of expertise, published under Creative Commons and freely available for republishing.

“The public is gaining direct access to a type of knowledge that when we produce it for academic venues exclusively, it is very coded, so the public will have a problem getting access to it. What we do through The Conversation is filter that knowledge through the lens of current affairs for many different perspectives and niches. That’s where the value is created,” Suárez explained.

“It’s a great initiative and we take it very seriously because it’s part of our responsibility. We are very aware of the effort the government has done in terms of the (research) budget and now, our part is to show those investments are worth their value in terms of public perception.”

Currently, The Conversation attracts 4.8 million users per month, reaching 35 million through Creative Commons republication. More than 22,000 media outlets around the world use content from The Conversation, including The Washington Post, Maclean’s, Le Monde, The Guardian, Time Magazine and The Hindu.

In Canada, Western is among 24 university Conversation partners forming a basis for expert editorial contributions. As part of this partnership, Western will be encouraging and working with university researchers and academics to participate by providing editorial content. The goal is to feature the author’s own scholarship, research and publications. The work should be explanatory journalism that illuminates events in the news with academics’ expertise, with introduction of new ideas.

Suárez hopes this channel will provide a new avenue to share, more broadly, research findings and academic perspectives that inform and affect society.

“Participation is totally volunteer based for those who are willing to put their knowledge out there, beyond the boundary of the academic institution. What we will do is develop a strategy to target those who are willing to share and we hope in imitation, many colleagues on campus will take on the challenge,” he said.