Accepted Paper:

Leaders and followers: Communities of practice in digitally engaged research  


Ann Grand (The Open University)
Richard Holliman (The Open University)
Anne Adams (The Open University)

Paper long abstract:

Researchers are increasingly turning to digital media and social technologies to communicate their research and engage with colleagues. These media and technologies make possible rich data manipulation, support connexions through large networks, sustain data-sharing and syndication and enhance interactivity. However, when it comes to facing outwards, engaging with communities beyond the academic context, our research shows that few researchers suggest digital media and social technologies as routes for engagement with publics.

We have identified that researchers' engagement with digitally engaged research is fostered within a culture in which researchers 'muddle through' together. We will discuss the mutual dependence of 'leaders' who take the lead in digital engagement mechanisms and 'followers', who are nurtured, respond and develop their practice. Digitally engaged research is rarely coherent and consistent across a research group; some researchers are keener than others, some accidentally find themselves in the role of digital leader, some have different experiences of digital engagement and others rely on colleagues to guide them through the maze of tools and techniques.

This paper draws on three strands of empirical evidence from an action research project in a UK university: a series of interviews with research leaders, a survey of research staff and a series of interviews with active researchers. We examine first, researchers' conceptualisation of engaged research, second, their digital engagement activity and finally, offer case studies to illustrate how our reflection on outcomes has fed back into further practice and development.

Panel G1
The development of digital tools in STS and digital humanities: Watching, muddling through and reflexivity