Reading List EN

RL #039: Immersive Experiences in Science Communication

Immersive experiences are very popular as a tool for science communication. Do they keep their promises?

When I was ten or eleven years old, I visited an exhibition about street children in the Global South with my school. We had previously read the book “Das Tor zum Garten der Zambranos” by Gudrun Pausewang in German class, which is about the friendship between a street boy and the son of a rich family who swap roles. The exhibition perfectly complemented the book reading, as it picked up on many of the themes. The exhibition took visitors to Latin American, Asian and African contexts, complete with reconstructed street scenes and matching artifacts. And visitors experienced the exhibition in uncomfortable improvised slippers made from car tires, as street children often wear. 

A quarter of a century later, I still remember this exhibition. But why? My guess: the combination of reading a book, a well-made exhibition and the very tactile car tire slippers was memorable enough to be remembered to this day. An immersive experience of white norther privilege, completely undigital and analog. Today, decades later, immersion is usually thought of as an interweaving of analog and digital experiences. There are numerous specialized providers who are also active in science communication. Immersive virtual reality offers huge potential for communicating science and research. The SciComm portal therefore sees virtual reality experiences as number 1 of the top 10 science communication trends of 2024. But what exactly are immersive experiences?

Immersion: what? 

The Immersive Experience Institute, a kind of think tank from California, provides useful definitions here. Those who want to delve deeper into the question of what constitutes immersive experiences and what their potential and qualities are can find peer-reviewed answers in the Journal of Network and Computer Applications. And those interested in the practical implementation level can, for example, take a look at the Copenhagen-based company Khora, with whom Oikoplus recently collaborated on an EU project submission. The creative team at Khora develops virtual reality and augmented reality for a wide range of applications. The projects in which Khora is involved show how virtual reality is also being used and researched in EU-funded research and innovation projects. For example, in the Horizon Europe project XTREME (Mixed Reality Environment for Immersive Experience of Art and Culture), which was launched in January 2024. In this project, a consortium of 14 partners is researching and developing mixed reality (MR) solutions for experiencing art.

Of course, many applications of virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive technologies are resource-intensive and costly. As a result, their field of application is often of a commercial nature. One example of this is the exhibition “Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience”, which has been successful around the world. But even here, knowledge is conveyed and brought to life.

What are the communicative benefits of immersion?

But do immersive experiences with the support of modern VR and AR technology also lead to measurable communication success? Well, the answer is not quite that simple. Research into this is being conducted selectively: Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri, for example, has investigated the effectiveness of VR as a science communication tool. However, for a very specific use case. In an article on LinkedIn, the company Imagineerium, a British provider of technology-supported immersive experiences, writes: “There has not been a great deal of research done on human psychology when exercised in an immersive experience, but some scientists and psychologists are beginning to look into it more as VR grows from strength to strength and immersion is starting to be used in learning experiences.”

It is probably not easy to say whether digital, immersive experiences are a useful communication tool. As is so often the case, it all depends. In any case, they expand the toolbox of science communication. Virtual reality and augmented reality are certainly a useful tool for many a communicative message and many a target group. But not in any case, for everyone, everywhere. 

The immersive exhibition I visited as a boy, which was completely analog and which I visited in the late 90s, is a good example of this. I remember the experience of the exhibition, but less about the actual exhibition content. But maybe that was just too long ago. 


RL #038: Think like a Think Tank – Communicating with Political Impact

In this reading list, we want to look at the communication methods think tanks use to bring science into politics.

Professional providers of science communication–whether embedded in research institutions, as companies such as Oikoplus, or think tanks–aim to communicate research results clearly and transparently and make knowledge available for public debate. The target audience for this is diverse. One relevant target group that is usually among the declared addressees of science communication is political decision-makers. In this Reading List, we therefore want to focus on communication methods aimed at policymakers and take a look at think tanks.

According to Sarah Lewis from TechTarget, think tanks create a space for debate, the generation of ideas and ways to disseminate knowledge. For a target group of lawmakers and political strategists, it is not just about providing information, but to provide the basis for decisions. As Clair Grant-Salmon points out, ‘gone are the days of producing standard sets of marketing activities that we can apply to all [target audiences]’. Nowadays, think tanks need to know who they are targeting and what they want to achieve.

Policy oriented think tank work, as stated by Annapoorna Ravichander results in ‘sets of guidelines to help achieve outcomes in a reasonable manner’. They are different from processes and actions. Policies are broad and set a certain direction. While science communication may not have a direct policymaking ambition, it can play a significant role in shaping policy debates, informing decision makers and influencing the development of ideas. And there are methods which can be applied in order to achieve policy influence. 

The most central way for science communicators to achieve policy impact, is providing policymakers with expertise and consultation. Science communicators can place researchers as consultants to government agencies, providing input in the policy-making process. There is, however, a challenge in this method. According to Andrea Baertl Helguero, in order to have influence on policy through consulting, think tanks should maintain a strong intellectual transparency and ensure their research is diligent and reliable. 

Another crucial method to achieve policy influence is networking. It’s a classic method used by think tanks. As Alejandro Chaufen explains in an article for Forbes, networking allows think tanks to create platforms where ideas can be exchanged and a consensus can be build around policy agendas

A question of format

An established format for presenting research findings to policymakers are policy briefing papers. A policy brief is a concise, well-researched and informed summary of a particular issue, the policy options for addressing that issue and some recommendations. These briefs are an important tool for presenting research findings and recommendations based on them to a non-scientific audience to support decision-making. Policy briefs allow science communicators to communicate their research and findings in a way that conveys the urgency of the issue and is accessible to people with different levels of knowledge. However, here too, research institutions should ensure transparency and remain independent and transparent when presenting problems, options or proposed solutions.  

When policy impact is the declared goal of science communication, this generates  a need for anticipatory methods such as foresight and forecasting, which can help inform policy action and increase societal resilience in a sustainable way. Science communicators should take a long-term view of policy change, work over-time and build momentum for the topics and ideas they work with. Mark Halle, for International Institute for Sustainable Development, states that ‘think tanks cannot afford vagueness […]’. They must create outputs, which are clear, targeted, and incorporate a vision of long-term, positive effects.  

This text hopefully serves as a good introduction to the question of what can be learned from think tanks when it comes to achieving political impact through science communication. And this leads almost inevitably to the question of how to measure the impact of research in the first place. Fortunately, we have already dealt with this in other Readings Lists, e.g here

      Reading List EN Uncategorized

      RL #030: Beyond Comparing Numbers: Qualitative Research Assessment 

      It can be argued well and lengthy about what is appropriate when it comes to evaluating the relevance, quality and significance of research work and making it measurable. The selected good reads encompass a range of perspectives, including open access repositories, research impact assessment, research evaluation projects, comprehensive assessment methods, and research grant evaluation. 

      For once, let’s not start with theory work, but in a very practical way. The “Your Impact” research guide by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) offers comprehensive information on evaluating research impact. It covers various metrics, tools, and methodologies to assess the societal, academic, and economic impacts of research. This guide provides practical advice to researchers, librarians, and administrators on navigating the complex landscape of research evaluation, empowering them to demonstrate the value and significance of their work.

      Choose your methods wisely – they might be assessed

      Of course, the choice of method always influences the results. And this also applies to the methods used to measure the impact of science. A recent project on evaluating research conducted by RAND Europe aims to improve understanding and methodologies for assessing research quality and impact. Their website offers insights into ongoing projects, publications, and tools related to research evaluation. RAND Europe’s expertise in research evaluation provides valuable insights for policymakers, funding agencies, and research institutions seeking to enhance evaluation practices and inform evidence-based decision-making.

      If you are looking for a clear and theoretically sound introduction to the topic of research evaluation, Evaluating Research in Context: A Method for Comprehensive Assessment by Jack Spaapen, Huub Dijstelbloem and Frank Wamelink from 2007 is recommended. The focus is on one thing, as the title suggests: Context. The right context is important if not only publications in journals and their ranking values are to be counted. Contextual consideration is crucial in science impact assessment. Research takes place within diverse fields, each with its own objectives, methodologies, and timelines. Therefore, relying solely on universal indicators may oversimplify the evaluation process and fail to capture the nuances of different disciplines. By accounting for the contextual aspects, such as field-specific metrics, geographic factors, and research goals, a more accurate assessment of impact can be achieved.

      Assessment of research should recognise diversity of outputs, practices and activities

      At Oikoplus, we work in a number of projects funded or co-funded by Horizon Europe, the European Union’s research and innovation program. This raises a very practical question: How does the EU measure the impact of the projects it (co-)funds? The EU Commission calls its new impact monitoring framework ‘Key Impact Pathways’. A recent working document provides an insight into the various indicators used by the EU Commission to evaluate projects.

      Science impact assessment is essential for evaluating the broader influence and value of research.

      When it comes to evaluation and measurability, it is obvious to operationalize success in numbers. However, there is no scheme for this operationalization that can represent the different types of scientific practice in a comparable way. Researchers are aware of this. One answer to the problem is the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA). Hundreds of universities, institutes, and scientific institutions have already joined the Coalition, united by the vision “that the assessment of research, researchers and research organisations recognises the diverse outputs, practices and activities that maximise the quality and impact of research. This requires basing assessment primarily on qualitative judgement, for which peer review is central, supported by responsible use of quantitative indicators.”

      Research assessment should always consider the indicators used and the specific context of the research being assessed. By adopting a comprehensive and contextual approach to impact assessment, stakeholders can gain a more nuanced understanding of research outcomes, encourage diverse research pathways, and make informed decisions to support the advancement of science and its positive societal impact.

      Reading List EN

      RL #006: How to Measure the Impact of Social Science

      Research is funded when it is socially relevant. This is the zeitgeist. Even before the first calls for research funding in the context of the EU’s HorizonEurope framework programme were published, it is clear that the research projects put forward by scientists had to be effective. The research funded by the EU should have social and economic impact and be scientifically excellent. The egg-laying woolly-milk-sow.

      The contributions in this Reading List deal with how qualitative social science methods become demonstrably effective. Because they are interested in depth and not width, it is for them particularly difficult to quantify results and impact. 

      Impact initially denotes a push or impulse. The focus, however, goes with the consequence of the impulse that occurs during social science research and has become part of the self-understanding in the field. Thus, the editors of the SOWI Impact Blog at the University of Vienna argue that social science research not only produces knowledge about society, but above all for and with society. Participatory methods, research at eye level and reflexivity are frequently used keywords in the community. On the SOWI Impact Blog, you will find several best practice examples that demonstrate impact without focusing on immediate measurability.

      Measuring what Happens: Interaction and Encounter

      Contrary to the approach of the University of Vienna, Wiljan van den Acker and Jack Sapper focus on the measurability of social impact for social science research.  In Productive Interactions: Societal Impact of Academic Research in the Knowledge Society, the authors argue that impact is the result of dynamic and open network processes with engagement. With the openness of the networks, they reject the linear effectiveness known from economics, but suggest counting meetings and their participants as a proxy for network nodes. Is this the final answer, though?

      Twelve Paths to Impact

      Counting meetings and interactions to illustrate the impact of research does not convince Reetta Muhonen and her colleagues. In the recently published paper “From Productive Interactions to Impact Pathways”, the authors therefore develop twelve typologies of impact pathways, which emphasise the prerequisites for and the nature of the interactions in a way the impact itself has a goal. The interaction becomes the starting point, the social added value the goal. New production processes, behavioural change or lines of argumentation are goals that, moreover, are not achieved only at the end of the research. Realising that impact is concrete and purposeful helps in writing research proposals and formulating intended (intermediate) outcomes.

      Indicators of Effectiveness? Phu…

      More applied, Elena Louder and her colleagues ask which indicators make sense for measuring impact in the social sciences. In their blogpost published on the Impact Blog of the London School of Economics, the authors give four principles for choosing frameworks and indicators to determine the impact of social science research: the relevance of change in the research context, the temporal dimension and nature of impact during research, the capacity to accommodate unexpected effects of research, and the level of detail of perceived impact. These and other aspects should certainly feature your chapters on expected impact and measures to increase impact.

      Impact yes – but not at any price!

      Ultimately, however, there are also a whole range of reasons not to bother with the topic at all. Mary K. Gugerty and Dean Karlan on the Open Access Blog of Northwestern University argue that most (social innovation) projects lack tools and resources to adequatly assess their impact. A rather fatalistic approach that challenges the meaning and benefit of immediate impact in social innovation projects. What may we learn from this contribution? Do not underestimate time and effort needed to conduct an appropriate assessment of your projects’ impact!

      From our projects

      In the ArcheoDanube project, in which Oikoplus is involved together with the Sustainication e.V. association, we are currently working on recommendations for the design of archaeological parks. More information here.

      In the SYNCITY project, our Urban Innovation Toolbox goes into production. You can find more information about the project on our project website and the Cureghem Tales.

      In the EnergyMEASURES project, the pandemic-related obstacles to contacting households have been overcome. Partners started to collect data and communication work has gained momentum. Read more about the project here.

      Reading List DE

      RL #006: Wie man das Wirken sozialwissenschaftlicher Forschung misst

      Forschung wird gefördert, wenn sie gesellschaftlich relevant ist. Das ist der Zeitgeist. Schon bevor die ersten Ausschreibungen für Forschungsförderungen im Kontext des EU Rahmenprogramms von HorizonEurope überhaupt  veröffentlicht wurden ist klar, dass die von den Wissenschafter*innen vorgebrachten Forschungsvorhaben wirkmächtig zu sein haben. Die von der EU geförderten Forschung soll sozialen und ökonomischen Impact haben und wissenschaftlich exzellent sein. Eine eierlegende Wollmilchsau.

      Die Beiträge in dieser Reading List setzen sich damit auseinander, wie vor allem qualitativ sozialwissenschaftliche Methoden nachweislich wirkmächtig werden. Weil sie per Definition an der Tiefe und nicht in der Breite interessiert sind, fällt es ihnen nämlich besonders schwer Ergebnisse zu quantifizieren und messbare Wirkmächtigkeit zu argumentieren. 

      Wirkmächtigkeit bezeichnet zunächst einen Stoß oder Impuls. Im Mittelpunkt steht die Auswirkung. Dieser Anstoß mit Auswirkung kann im Rahmen einer sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschung geschehen und ist dort Teil des Selbstverständnisses geworden. So argumentiert die Redaktion des SOWI Impact Blog der Universität Wien, dass sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung nicht nur Wissen über, sondern vor allem auch für und mit der Gesellschaft produziert. Partizipative Methoden, Forschen auf Augenhöhe und Reflexivität sind vielgenannte Stichworte in der Szene. Auf dem SOWI Impact Blog finden sich eine Reihe an Best Practice Beispielen, die den Impact aufzeigen, ohne die unmittelbare Messbarkeit in den Vordergrund zu stellen.

      Messen was passiert: Interaktion und Zusammentreffen

      Entgegen dem Ansatz der Universität Wien rücken Wiljan van den Acker und Jack Sapper die Messbarkeit sozialer Wirkungsmächtigkeit für die sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung in den Vordergrund. In ”Productive Interactions: Societal Impact of Academic Research in the Knowledge Society“ argumentieren die Autoren, Wirkmächtigkeit sei das Resultat dynamischer und offener Netzwerkprozesse mit Engagement. Sie entsagen mit der Offenheit der Netzwerke zwar einer linearen Wirkmächtigkeit, wie sie in der Ökonomie bekannt ist, legen aber doch nahe, stellvertretend für Netzwerkknoten Meetings und deren Teilnehmer*innen zu zählen. Aber ist das der Weisheit letzter Schluss?

      Zwölf Pfade zur Wirkmächtigkeit

      Das Zählen von Meetings und Interaktionen zum Darstellen der Wirkungsmächtigkeit von Forschung überzeugt Reetta Muhonen und ihre Kolleg*innen nicht. Im frisch erschienenen Paper „From Productive Interactions to Impact Pathways“ entwickeln die Autor*innen daher zwölf Typologien von Impact Pathways, die die Voraussetzungen für und die Art der Interaktionen jeweils so in den Vordergrund rücken, dass der Impact selbst ein Ziel hat. Die Interaktion ist der Startpunkt, der soziale Mehrwert das Ziel. Neue Produktionsprozesse, Verhaltensänderung oder neue Argumentationslinien sind Ziele, die außerdem nicht erst am Ende der Forschung erreicht werden. Sich zu verdeutlichen, dass Wirkmächtigkeit konkret und zielgerichtet ist, hilft beim Schreiben von Forschungsanträgen und beim Formulieren angestrebter (Zwischen-)Ergebnisse.

      Indikatoren für Wirkmächtigkeit? Phu…

      Angewandter stellen sich Elena Louder und ihre Kolleg*innen in einem Artikel veröffentlicht auf dem Impact Blog der London School of Economics die Frage, welche Indikatoren für das Messen von Wirkmächtigkeit in den Sozialwissenschaften Sinn machen. In ihrem Blogpost geben die Autor*innen vier Prinzipien für die Wahl der Rahmenbedingungen und Indikatoren für das Bestimmen von Wirkmächtigkeit sozialwissenschaftlicher Forschung an: die Relevanz von Veränderung im Forschungskontext, die zeitliche Dimension und Art der Wirkmächtigkeit während einer Forschung, die Kapazität, unerwartete Wirkungen einer Forschung aufnehmen zu können, und den Detailgrad wahrgenommener Wirkung. Diese und andere Aspekte sollten auch in Kapiteln rund um die erwartete Wirkmächtigkeit und die Maßnahmen zur Steigerung von Wirkmächtigkeit vorkommen.

      Wirkung ja – aber nicht um jeden Preis!

      Zu guter Letzt gibt es aber auch eine ganze Reihe an Gründen, sich gar nicht erst weiter mit dem Thema auseinanderzusetzen. Mary K. Gugerty und Dean Karlan argumentieren jedenfalls auf dem Open Access Blog der Northwestern University, dass eine Vielzahl an (Social Innovation) Projekten ohnehin nicht die richtigen Werkzeuge, den richtigen Zeitpunkt oder die notwendigen Ressourcen haben, um die eigene Wirkmächtigkeit in einem Rahmen zu erheben, der für das Projekt selbst, geschweige denn für den Fördergeber einen Mehrwert erzielt. Ein etwas fatalistischer Ansatz, der den Sinn und den Mehrwert unmittelbar wirksamer Wirkmächtigkeit in sozialen Innovationsprojekten in Frage stellt. Was wir von diesem Beitrag lernen können? Unterschätzen Sie den personellen und eventuell auch technischen Aufwand nicht!

      Aus unseren Projekten

      Im Projekt ArcheoDanube, an dem Oikoplus gemeinsam mit dem Verein Sustainication e.V. beteiligt ist, arbeiten wir aktuell an Empfehlungen für die Gestaltung Archäologischer Parks. Mehr Infos hier

      Im Projekt SYNCITY geht unsere Urban Innovation Toolbox in die Produktion. Infos zum Projekt finden sie auf unserer Projekt Website und den Cureghem Tales

      Im Projekt EnergyMEASURES konnten die pandemie-bedingten Hürden hinblicklich dem in Kontakt treten mit Haushalten überwunden werden. Daten werden gesammelt und auch die Kommunikationsarbeit hat an Fahrt aufgenommen. Hier erfahren Sie mehr über das Projekt.