Why all community groups need a sexual harassment policy

Taylor Swift. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

Today a jury in the US found DJ David Mueller guilty of assault and battery against pop star Taylor Swift, for putting his hand up her skirt and groping her at a party. For the many women around the world who have been subject to sexual harassment or assault, this was a vindicating moment.

Most workplaces these days have come a long way in how they deal with sexual harassment allegations, with comprehensive policies and procedures that comply with the relevant laws while being as just and fair as possible. Many community groups and small not-for-profits, however, still have a long way to go.

It’s easy to see how developing these policies can be put off. They’re complex, difficult to get right and may even require legal advice. When a volunteer board has its hands full keeping the organisation running, policies and procedures often get put on the backburner or take a very long time to come to fruition.

Unfortunately, many community groups only realise how important these things are when they’re needed, which is far too late. It’s not unusual for a community group to go into meltdown over a sexual harassment allegation when it doesn’t have a policy or procedure to follow. The resulting process risks being neither just nor fair, and may fail to conform to best practice for investigating these sorts of allegations as set out by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complainant may also have grounds for a complaint to either the AHRC or their state-based anti-discrimination authority due to failures in the process, which could end up being drawn-out, painful and costly for all involved. Dealing with sexual harassment allegations is never going to be easy, but having a proper process will make it less traumatic for both the complainant and the accused, and will increase the chances of a satisfactory resolution for all parties.

If your organisation doesn’t have a sexual harassment policy, the time to develop one is now. The good news is there are plenty of resources available to help you.

Developing these sorts of policies and procedures isn’t just about protecting your organisation – it’s about ensuring all parties are treated justly and fairly, and that the process is transparent and well-executed. You may think the cost in time and potentially money (should you require legal advice) is high – but the cost of not doing it can be far higher.

Reaching out: Dr Graeme Smith

Every month I’ll be interviewing a humanities, arts or social science academic who engages extensively with their wider community, asking them about the kind of outreach they do and why they feel it’s important.

Dr Graeme Smith (centre) with Little Red Podcast co-host Louisa Lim (left) and guest Dr Feng Chongyi (right).

Our guest today is Dr Graeme Smith, an part-time Research Fellow in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, and co-host of the Little Red Podcast.

What is your area of research?

Chinese political economy.

What kind of outreach do you currently do? What’s your favourite type and why?

My major outreach effort at the moment consists of hosting and editing the Little Red Podcast, a podcast that I started in order to popularise the work done by Australian academics on China. In the past, I’d enjoyed radio interviews and public lectures. TV and print media are heavily edited, whereas radio tends to give a more faithful (or at least longer) account of your thoughts, so it’s great to move into audio journalism. It’s also been fun to work with a co-host, Louisa Lim, who has over a decade of experience working with the BBC and NPR, and whose work I’d long admired. It’s less solitary than traditional outreach. Each episode we pick one topic – whether it be minority languages in Tibet or China’s influence in East Timor – and try to find engaging speakers to probe and question on that topic.  We’re always trying different approaches. We might have a panel of three different speakers with conflicting opinions, or include Mandarin interviews with Chinese academics voiced-over to provide a spectrum of opinion.  We even did an episode on the One Child Policy, where we paired an interview with a young Chinese theatre director who had just directed a play on the impact of the policy with an economist working on the behavioural impact of the One Child Policy.  Our aim is to spark debate by providing fresh and interesting conversations.

Why do you undertake these outreach activities (why do you think they’re important)?

The primary motivation behind the show is to cover stories about China that aren’t being covered in the media or by other China focused podcasts. For example, Fergus Green, who’d just co-authored a report on China’s greenhouse gas emissions with Nicholas Stern, was in Melbourne for a short visit. I was keen to get him on the record, as few people are aware that China’s greenhouse emissions are falling. I think the most important goal of the podcast is raising the profile of Australian scholars whose work isn’t as well known as it should be. One great joy is seeing Louisa constantly surprised by the quality of work done by China researchers that she’d never heard of before. US China scholars tend to only cite other US China scholars, so hopefully our podcast can go some way to breaking down this barrier.   With our backgrounds – as a journalist and academic who are both fluent in Chinese – we are also able to cover issues that the mainstream Australian media may not have access to, for example the way in which Beijing has almost succeeded in taking over Chinese-language media here in Australia.

Who is your main audience and why did you choose to focus on them?

With our respective backgrounds spanning both academia and journalism, we have dedicated followers in both camps.  We try to keep subjects accessible enough for mainstream audiences, but detailed enough for academics. Our sound editor, Gavin Nebauer, is invaluable in pulling us up when we start talking about things that no one other than China nerds will follow. Where our listeners come from varies with each episode. Soundcloud gives an accurate breakdown and it’s sometimes surprising. Our second episode, with Gerald Roche on the politics of language in Tibet, was a big hit so we have a substantial following among the Tibetan diaspora. About a third of our listeners are in Australia, followed closely by the US and then Hong Kong and Britain.

How did you get started with your outreach? What was the first thing you did?

At the time I was working full time at the University of Melbourne, so we sought advice from their outreach staff, who now organise an ever-expanding podcast hub. Eric van Bemmel and Andi Horvath provided great advice on how to raise the profile of the podcast through Twitter and Facebook, and were extremely encouraging during those early days. Louisa Lim has a Twitter following of 38,000 people, so that was useful in building an initial audience among journalists based in China, and my own network of academics working in the China field complemented that so that we have been able to build an audience across both fields.

Why did you start the Little Red Podcast and how did you go about it? What was your reason for choosing an audio medium?

I’d been thinking about it for some time, partly as a solution to the perennial academic pressure of demonstrating ‘impact’, but largely because I thought it might be fun. Two other academics at the Asia Institute, Ken Setiawan and Dave McRae, produced Talking Indonesia every fortnight, and gained inspiration from them. A good friend, Andrew Zammit, had also started up the fascinating Sub Rosa podcast, looking at security and human rights issues. He provided invaluable advice about getting started on Soundcloud and iTunes. I’m also drawn to audio because I am a longtime radio fan and I was interested in exploiting the possibilities of audio-on-demand. In addition to the convenience that mobile access offers to listeners, it was also appealing to capture a permanent record of some of the finest minds in the field. The other stroke of luck was the arrival of Louisa Lim in Melbourne who has helped shape the programme.

What sort of response have you had to the podcast?

We’ve had a very positive response to the podcast, and the first ten episodes have been downloaded over 9000 times.  We’ve also had a lot of notice on Twitter, which has been fantastic, including being called “outstanding” by the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann, who told us that he’d listened to our podcasts while working on the Four Corners reports on Chinese influence in Australia.  So we hope that we are helping drive the broader conversation about Australia-China ties.  Some of the most exciting responses are the new partnerships that we’ve made this year. The ANU’s Chinoiresie, a wonderful site filled with fascinating “mismatched shards of China,” hosts our podcast. We’ve also joined forces with the LA Review of Books. Louisa will be writing monthly think-pieces to accompany each podcast episode.  We have heard from those we interview that it has helped raise their profile, and that has been gratifying.

What are some of the important things you’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t? Do you have any memorable stories about outreach activities that went either really well or really badly?

One of the wonderful things about hosting a podcast is that you can never be sure about what works and what doesn’t until it’s on the air. Louisa and I will typically have a long back-and-forth about what to cut from each episode. As a radio journalist, she likes to keep the episodes tight and fast-paced, which is why people respond well to the show, whereas I’m always trying to smuggle obscura back in. It’s nearly always excess baggage, but every now and then it works. A long discussion with Swinburne University’s John Fitzgerald about the history of the United Front during the episode “Control and Capture” comes to mind. Sometimes episodes you are sure will be a huge hit don’t take off. Our interview with UTS China scholar Feng Chongyi was the first time he had spoken at length since being detained in China. It’s still the most comprehensive record of his thoughts on his detention, so I recommend a listen!

What benefits do you think your outreach has had for your work (both research and teaching)?

The podcast has been valuable in raising my profile, but it has also been fantastic fun in that it has allowed me to have incredibly stimulating conversations with scholars whose work I respect, at the same time as bringing their work to a wider audience. The podcast has already been put on the undergraduate curriculum as recommended listening at Monash University, and I hope that more institutions will follow suit.

What personal benefits do you think it has had in terms of developing your skills?

Until I started hosting a podcast, I’d worked under the delusion that I was a pretty good communicator. At about take 25 of trying to get out the words “little red podcast” in an intelligible fashion, those illusions were shattered. Listening back over the raw audio of the episodes is also confronting. Like a lot of people of my gender, I have an awful habit of jumping in at the moment when a guest is about to share an interesting thought. Sometimes Louisa will pull it back, but not always. Delusions about being a masterful interviewer, honed by years “in the field”, again had to be put aside. I’ve learned so much from Louisa about how to put together a program that entertains and starts a conversation; hopefully she’s gained something from it too!

Reaching out: Rev Dr Sarah Bachelard

Every month I’ll be interviewing a humanities, arts or social science academic who engages extensively with their wider community, asking them about the kind of outreach they do and why they feel it’s important.

Our guest today is Reverend Dr Sarah Bachelard, an Honorary Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University.

What is your area of research?

Theology and spirituality.

What kind of outreach do you currently do? (E.g. media articles, radio and television interviews, public lectures, personal website/social media/blog, books for a general audience, other.) What’s your favourite type and why?

I have a range of ‘outreach’ activities including:

  • leading retreats and quiet days
  • public lectures
  • a book for a general audience
  • publishing reflections on ABC Religion & Ethics website
  • occasional Radio National interview
  • Benedictus website and blog
  • talks for non-academic conferences and gatherings
  • reflections and community days for the Benedictus Contemplative Church community

I enjoy all of the above – probably the most satisfying things are the talks, lectures and retreat days because of interaction with participants and the chance to explore ideas and share insights.

Why do you undertake these outreach activities (why do you think they’re important)?

This outreach seems intrinsic to my work, which is about making the connections between academic theology and the lived experience of the spiritual life. I find that having to speak theologically in these broader contexts really helps to keep my academic work grounded, and accountable to what any of this might mean in practice.

Who is your main audience and why did you choose to focus on them?

My main audience is the church and those just in and around the edges of church. This is the group most interested in connections between theology and spiritual life, although I’m always hoping that what I say might be intelligible and interesting to people who aren’t confessional Christians.

How did you get started with your outreach? What was the first thing you did?

The first thing were some talks and retreats, and also my little book for a general audience [Experiencing God in a Time of Crisis], and from this have come invitations to give public lectures, submit articles for the ABC website, and so on.

What are some of the important things you’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t? Do you have any memorable stories about outreach activities that went either really well or really badly?

I’ve discovered that what works is a certain degree of reference to my personal experience, acknowledgement of areas of struggle or difficulty, and trying to keep abstract ideas connected to experiences people will recognise or resonate with.

What benefits do you think your outreach has had for your work (both research and teaching)?

As mentioned above, I think it keeps me ‘honest’ and grounded – it’s less easy to go up in a self-referencing academic bubble.

What personal benefits do you think it has had in terms of developing your skills?

It’s taught me to write more vividly (as in a spoken style), and to hone skills in discerning the heart of what I want to say and be able to say it more clearly and succinctly.

 

Stumble It!

Authentic communication

One of the biggest sticking points for academics, artists and organisations when it comes to outreach is worry about having to engage in ‘marketing’ or self-promotion. Terms like ‘personal brand’ can give the impression that we have to create something apart from ourselves, a persona that’s disconnected from who we really are. This is particularly alarming if you’re naturally introverted, and the thought of having to blow your own trumpet gives you chills.

In fact, however, the most effective engagement usually comes from simply being yourself. This is a surprisingly difficult lesson to learn – I say this from experience – because, especially in this age of social media and carefully curated images, it’s so easy to keep comparing ourselves to others and feeling like there’s a whole lot of things we ‘should’ be doing, even if they don’t really float our boat.

A common refrain I hear from academics is that they feel they need to have a presence on every social media platform, but they just don’t have the time or the inclination to manage it all. My response to that is simple: if you don’t like it, don’t do it. The chances are your audience will be concentrated on one or two main platforms (probably Facebook or Twitter, although Instagram may be more appropriate for artists or those with a strong visual focus), so go where they are and don’t worry about the others. It’s much better to learn how to use one or two platforms really effectively than to spread yourself too thinly across many.

The same thing goes for personal websites. Some academics get great engagement (and presumably enjoyment) out of having their own blog, such as this one by Dr Andrew Carr, and posting book reviews or other articles – but blogs take maintenance, and if that’s not your thing then don’t worry about it. As Prof Hugh White noted in our April Reaching Out interview, he doesn’t use social media at all, but still reaches his target audience through mainstream newspapers.

I understand this pressure all too well, having just gone through the same thing with my own business. Being in communications, I felt like I should be blogging about new technology or developments in search engine optimisation, because that seemed to be what everyone else was doing. Then, at the prompting of a very wise business coach, I stopped and thought about what I was really passionate about – helping humanities, arts and social sciences academics bring their work to a wider audience, because I see immense value in their work and the contribution it makes to society. Once I remembered exactly why I’d started my business in the first place, blogging suddenly became a whole lot easier, because I believe in what I’m writing about. So if your research and passion is Sanskrit translation, or the history of Lithuania, or the prevention of nuclear war, use that as your main point of engagement. If you’re authentic in your outreach, you’ll attract people who share your interests and who want to hear more about your work. You can’t please everyone, but the good news is you don’t have to.

 

Reaching out: Professor Tom Griffiths

Every month I’ll be interviewing a humanities, arts or social science academic who engages extensively with their wider community, asking them about the kind of outreach they do and why they feel it’s important.

Our guest today is Professor Tom Griffiths, W. K. Hancock Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Environmental History in the School of History, Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

What is your area of research?

History of all kinds – especially Australian history, Aboriginal history, environmental history, modern history, world history, the history of Antarctica and the writing of non-fiction.

What kind of outreach do you currently do? (E.g. media articles, radio and television interviews, public lectures, personal website/social media/blog, books for a general audience.) What’s your favourite type and why?

I write for the general public.  Historians are lucky because they can rely on a general readership as well as an academic one, and the best scholarly books are also accessible to a popular audience.  Occasionally I have had to fight for the book within the narrowing culture of the corporate university, which tends to favour ‘peer-reviewed academic journal articles’.  Of course they are important too!  But there is no more rigorous review process than to offer a whole book for wide and enduring scrutiny.  Fortunately, historians understand this and remain ardent champions of the book as the pre-eminent academic achievement of the humanities scholar.

It is exciting to discover that a book has a life of its own and generates opportunities for all kinds of other outreach – interviews, public lectures, writers’ festival talks, social media, maybe film, and even good old-fashioned correspondence with readers who take the trouble to read deeply and then write to you.  There is a great hunger for meaning out there, and people turn gratefully to those who don’t dumb down their intellectual passions.  I aim to write books that will find their way to a bedside table because there they might enter dreams.

Why do you undertake these outreach activities (why do you think they’re important)?

Conversations with the general public – through interviews, talkback radio, letters, lectures and speeches of all kinds – are a source of inspiration and learning for me.  They are a wellspring of ideas, and in some ways they are also the subject of my scholarship.  What is the nature of historical consciousness?  How do people feel about the past and what influence does it have on their daily life and the way they think and behave?  How can historical thinking deepen our wisdom and even enhance our enjoyment of life?

Who is your main audience and why did you choose to focus on them?

Serious readers, both inside and outside academia, are my main audience.  I meet these people on campus, in town, over the dinner table and at writers’ festivals – and even when I’m out bushwalking or following a pilgrimage trail in Europe, as my recent book, The Art of Time Travel, relates.  (It begins with a story of a conversation with three French walkers about historians.)  People who read seriously think differently and deserve our encouragement and attention.  It is getting harder to win time for deep reading from the frenetic digital world, but I think there is also a fascinating resurgence in the popularity of books.  Books are also a privileged entrée to the spoken world of stories and ideas, thus a writer is also a performer and a teacher.

How did you get started with your outreach? What was the first thing you did?

I guess that my first long-term job was as an ‘outreach’ historian. For over five years from my late twenties I was employed as Field Officer at the State Library of Victoria and my job was to deal with the public over matters of history and to encourage people to donate diaries, letters, photos and archives to the state’s Australiana research collections.  It was known as ‘the cup of tea job’ because it took me into the lounge rooms of Victoria to discuss the future of family papers.  I found that people were very interested in how their own experience, and that of their forebears, related to the history of the nation and the world.

In your book Slicing the Silence, you juxtapose essays on the human history of Antarctica with your own diary entries written on the voyage from Hobart to Casey Station. Why did you choose to structure the book in this way and move away from a traditional ‘academic’ text?

I am trying to seduce my reader into turning the page!  I think a personal account can sometimes secure a reader’s attention.  The challenge then is to taken them into a deeper, satisfying exploration of ideas from other times.  On my Antarctic trip, being on the ship enables me to reflect on the history of voyaging in the Southern Ocean; seeing the ice for the first time makes me think about how much ice there is and how did we discover that; arriving at an Antarctic station prompts an investigation of life in small, isolated communities trapped for months in polar darkness, and so on.  Good history is always a dialogue between the present and the past.

Your new book, The Art of Time Travel, focuses on the work of historians and profiles 14 of Australia’s most eminent historians. What drove this project and why was it important to you to highlight historians’ work to a wider audience?

I think something magical happens in the writing of great history.  Just what that magic is, or might be, can be explored by looking over the shoulder of gifted historians at work.  I wanted to show that writing history is a highly creative act and that its artistic aspirations are perfectly consistent with the quest to represent the past truthfully.

What are some of the important things you’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t in terms of outreach? Do you have any memorable stories about outreach activities that went either really well or really badly?

Although I’ve emphasised the written word in my responses here, I spend a lot of time preparing and giving talks.  I’ve spoken in Rotary Clubs, school rooms, scout halls, community centres, lecture theatres, museums, on a soapbox, under a canopy of stars, balancing on ships voyaging to Antarctica, close to the Greenland ice cap and in the Commonwealth Parliament, and I’ve always benefited from researching my audience beforehand.  Who are they, what are they interested in, how comfortably are they sitting, can they hear me and can they see my pictures?  Three good rules are: respect your audience, address them with enthusiasm and trust the power of a true story.

I was moved by the response to one of my essays in a small community that suffered in the Black Saturday firestorm.  I wrote about that event, putting it in historical perspective, in the week following the fire and the essay seemed to fill a need.  The community of Steels Creek in the Yarra Valley lost ten residents and two-thirds of its homes, and with the loss of their computers people shared photocopies of the essay.  The digital became document.  This led to an invitation to work with the community in capturing their stories and helping them to recover a sense of their shared identity over time.  In collaboration with them, we produced two books and a film.  That original essay was awarded the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the $15,000 prize money went to the Steels Creek project, and the book royalties to the community centre.

What benefits do you think your outreach has had for your work (both research and teaching)?

It often fundamentally shapes the character of the research.  Outreach doesn’t just come at the end of good social inquiries; it is part of the formative dialogue.  And I hope it enables my teaching about history to be more engaged with my own place and time.

What personal benefits do you think it has had in terms of developing your skills?

The wonderful thing about being a writer, scholar and academic is that you are a life-long learner.  The great skill of the historian is to be a careful and compassionate listener – to past voices, often lost or silenced, and also to the testimony of the present.  ‘Outreach’ constantly throws one into the deep end.  Those unexpected audiences are great teachers!

 

Stumble It!

Dealing with impostor syndrome

In 1978, clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term ‘impostor syndrome’ (or ‘fraud syndrome’) to describe high-achieving individuals who, despite having external evidence of their competence, remain convinced that they’re frauds and don’t deserve their success or achievements. Although not a formal mental disorder, in extreme cases impostor syndrome can lead to  anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, depression, shame, self-doubt and a debilitating fear of failure.

Impostor syndrome is incredibly common in academia (and also in the creative arts), among all levels and disciplines. I remember how, as a PhD student, I was completely convinced – even after my thesis had been passed and I’d received my graduation date – that someone somewhere in the depths of the university would realise that my whole candidature had been a fraud and take my degree off me. It wasn’t until I held the piece of paper in my hand at graduation that this fear began to lessen somewhat, but it’s still something I battle periodically, particularly as a writer.

While working in communications at a university, I saw impostor syndrome manifest in a particularly interesting way among academics when it came to outreach. Many academics seemed unaware of just how much they knew about the wider context of their area of expertise, as well as their specific field, and were loath to comment on anything that wasn’t exactly aligned with their research topic. This often led to them foregoing outreach opportunities that they would actually have been highly suitable for. For example: an academic who worked on women’s politics in a small Asian country was asked some general questions by a journalist about the upcoming election in that country. She deferred the questions as outside her area of expertise; however, she actually had a very good knowledge of the general political situation beyond her specific focus on gender. Consequently, she missed a good opportunity to promote her research because she didn’t realise just how much she knew.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you should comment on issues completely outside your area of expertise, or where you genuinely don’t feel comfortable. But in many cases, academics become so fixated on their specific topic that they forget that they actually know a lot more than most people about the general context as well (and it’s often this general context that journalists are interested in). So what can you do to combat this type of impostor syndrome?

Make a list of areas adjacent to your topic that you’re comfortable commenting on.
Your specific research area might be post-Cold War China-Vietnam relations, but you’d probably also be in a position to comment on the history of the South China Sea dispute  between those countries. Having this list of what you will and won’t cover will be helpful when a journalist calls you with a tight deadline. Often, journalists will look at university experts’ guides and simply call anyone who seems to have a passing interest in the topic, so you may sometimes get asked about things that aren’t really your area. If you’ve thought about it beforehand then you can easily say either yes or no.

Don’t sell yourself short. It’s easy to get a skewed perspective in academia about how much you know, because you’re often associating with other experts in your field and comparing yourself to them. Compared to the rest of the world, however, you know an awful lot about your area, even if you don’t think you’re at the top of your field. Most broad-audience media outlets won’t be asking you the kinds of questions that your peers at a conference might – they won’t need anything like that level of detail (and are unlikely to be hostile or challenging). You know more than you think you do.

Get some media training. Most universities offer interview training, where you can practice talking to ‘journalists’ in a safe setting (some even video their mock interviews to give you the feeling of being on TV). This will help give you an idea of the types of questions you’re likely to be asked. It will also teach you how to re-frame questions if you’re not comfortable with them and redirect the conversation back towards your area of expertise. Having some training under your belt will help boost your confidence when the real journalists come calling.

Stumble It!

Reaching out: Professor Hugh White

Every month I’ll be interviewing a humanities, arts or social science academic who engages extensively with their wider community, asking them about the kind of outreach they do and why they feel it’s important.

Our guest today is Professor Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. 

What is your area of research?

I study Australian defence and foreign policy, and the international trends and events that bear upon it.  My main work these days is on the strategic rivalry  between America and China and what it means for Asia and Australia, and on the kinds of armed forces Australia will need over coming decades.

What kind of outreach do you currently do? (E.g. media articles, radio and television interviews, public lectures, personal website/social media/blog, books for a general audience.)

I write quite a lot for newspapers and magazines.  For many years, until last year, I wrote a fortnightly column for the Fairfax papers, and I now write occasionally for the Australian Financial Review.  I also write once or twice a year for The Monthly [current affairs magazine].  Overseas I write a monthly column for the Singapore Straits Times and a bimonthly column for the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, and write fairly often for the Global Times in China. In America I have written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly, among others.  I also write occasional pieces for many other publications. On average I guess I write an op-ed or magazine article about  once every 10 days.

I write regularly for two blogs – the Lowy Interpreter and the ASPI Strategist, and contribute occasionally to others, including the US National Interest and War on the Rocks. On average I write about one blog post a fortnight.

I do a bit of radio and TV, and often speak to print journalists. How often depends a lot on what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll do several interviews a day, sometimes very little for weeks.

I do public lectures or speeches to non-academic audiences fairly regularly – maybe 15 times a year.

I’m embarrassed to admit that don’t have a website, nor do I use social media.

I’ve written a couple of books for general audiences [The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power (2012); Power Shift: Australia’s Future Between Washington and Beijing (2010); Beyond the Defence of Australia (2006)].

What’s your favourite type of outreach and why?

I guess newspaper op-eds/columns are my favourite – I like writing and enjoy trying to set out an argument for one’s position clearly in a short space.

Why do you undertake these outreach activities (why do you think they’re important)?

I’ve always seen public and policy audiences as central to my work as an academic, in part because I worked in policy jobs for many years before becoming an academic.

Who is your main audience and why did you choose to focus on them?

My aim is to influence policy debates and outcomes, which means I aim more or less equally for policymakers, the broader community of opinion-leaders and wider public audiences. There is less difference between these than may meet the eye – often the best way to reach policymakers such as ministers is via the opinion pages of the major papers.  I do quote a lot of international media because I’m interested in trying to influence views not just here but in countries whose policies matter to Australia.

How did you get started with your outreach? What was the first thing you did?

I was already active in public and policy debates when I worked at a think tank before I became an academic.  Long before that, I started writing for newspapers and doing interviews when I was [briefly] a PhD student in the early 1980s, and then went on to work as a print journalist myself for a time.

What are some of the important things you’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t?

Well, two precepts I try to follow. First, one’s aim should not to be make your audience reach the same conclusion as you have on whatever you are writing or speaking about, but to help them understand the issue and reach their own conclusions better, so outreach is a lot like teaching. Second, one should avoid commenting on other people’s views – even if they are commenting on yours!  Always try to stick to debating the substantive issues.

What benefits do you think your outreach has had for your work (both research and teaching)?

Well, for me it’s almost the other way round. I see wider policy and public audiences as my primary audiences, so I ask how does my scholarly work help and support that – which of course it does.  Good outreach is based  on good scholarship, pure and simple.  One always aims to bring the rigour and precision of scholarship to consideration of policy questions,  because  what makes good scholarship also makes good policy.

What personal benefits do you think it has had in terms of developing your skills?

I think that writing and speaking for public and policy audiences helps you write and speak better for academic audiences too.

Stumble It!

5 reasons why outreach matters

One of the most common questions I get from academics is ‘Why should I bother with outreach?’ When you’re already flat out with research, publishing, teaching, grant applications and various other admin tasks, getting your work out in public can seem like just another burden to add to an already heavy load. But there are some very good reasons you may want to engage in outreach – remembering, of course, that your target audience isn’t necessarily the general public (they may be a specific, interested community that stretches beyond your academic peers). Here are just a few of them.

1. You can shape the conversation.
Those who get heard are those who show up. By definition, the humanities, arts and social sciences have people and society at their centre. By reaching a wider audience, you can use your expertise to influence local, national and international debates on important issues.

2. Your work can contribute to the public good.
Most academics want their work to make a difference, and the humanities, arts and social sciences have been responsible for shepherding in some of the biggest social changes of the last century or more. But policymakers often don’t have the time – or sometimes the access – to read academic journals, so you have to go to them if you want your research to make an impact.

3. Grant applications often require communications plans.
Even if you hate the thought of outreach, many grant applications these days require you to complete a communications plan,  e.g. Australian Research Council grant applications ask you to “Outline plans for communicating the research results to other researchers and the broader community, including scholarly and public communication and dissemination.” If you’re already doing this as a matter of course, and you already have a public profile, this becomes infinitely easier.

4. It will drive traffic to your academic work.
It’s a sad fact that many academic papers aren’t widely read, either because people outside academia don’t have access to them, or because the length and style of writing means they’re time-consuming and difficult to read. 82 per cent of articles published in the humanities and 37 per cent in the social sciences are not cited even once. Unfortunately, the same goes for academic books. There is good news, however: academic articles and books that are featured in the mainstream media are much more widely read and cited than those that aren’t. If people’s interest is piqued by a more-accessible version of your work, they’ll potentially go looking for the detailed version later.

5. It will make you a better writer, teacher and public speaker.
Being able to get to the crux of complex ideas is a vital part of academic analysis, and explaining your research to non-experts is one of the best ways to develop this skill. Much as PhD students are taught to distil their research question through the Three-Minute Thesis competition, academics can do the same by presenting their research to mainstream audiences through media articles, public lectures, blog posts or other avenues. In addition, media training, especially for television and radio, will teach you how to answer questions about your work quickly and succinctly, without any of the stereotypical ‘academic waffle’ – for which your students and colleagues will doubtless be very grateful.

Stumble It!