Why is public outreach important?
A large portion of research is publicly funded in most countries around the world. This means that the tax-paying public is supporting that research: they are key stakeholders. The public is, almost without exception, going to be affected by research outcomes. And, more importantly perhaps, we’re interested – we want to know what’s going on in those laboratories, on field work expeditions and in researchers’ offices.
What does effective science communication look like?
Effective science communication should break down a complex topic and explain it clearly and concisely. The reader needs to be engaged – they should feel interested and inspired. Good science communication happens all the time – whenever a lecturer inspires a student, or a newspaper prints a story that captures readers’ imaginations. At Research Outreach, though, we believe that effective science communication is not just about helping readers understand; it’s about sharing that knowledge as widely as possible. That means we put a lot of effort into our social media channels and in distributing articles to as wide and large an audience as we can.
Are there set criteria for the researchers you work with?
We work with researchers at all stages of their careers. We think it’s important to show a balanced view of the research community. Most researchers we feature are working on government-funded research.
What house style rules do you follow?
We are based in the beautiful Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, UK. And for that reason we use UK spelling conventions across our website and printed materials as standard. That’s why you’ll see ‘behaviour’ with a ‘u’ or ‘distil’ with one ‘l’, for example. We like to stick to our house style across our platforms but if we are creating bespoke content for you to use e.g. a brochure for your lab, we will of course follow the conventions that best suit you.
Why do you put so much into your social media channels?
Social media has never been so important. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017, 62% of adults got news from social media. Social media is also an excellent way of putting information about research in front of the public rather than a traditional academic audience.
How can I subscribe?
It’s easy! You just enter a few details about yourself, select your areas of interest and we’ll keep you updated with articles relating to your interests, plus each quarterly publication. Sign up today.
Is Research Outreach a peer-reviewed journal?
No, we operate in a unique space between traditional media outlets and peer-reviewed publications. We are not a peer-reviewed journal, although the vast majority of the work we feature has been published in this way. We are also different to a traditional magazine or newspaper. We are not here to critique researchers’ work – we simply want to help them make it more accessible to the general public. So, the researchers we work with have input at all stages of the process and have final approval over their article. This is important as it means the articles you read are accurate in their description of the work.
How do you keep all this content free to access?
Removing the paywall barrier to information about research is important to us. (We’re not the only ones who think this, check out Jason Schmitt’s film. So, when we decided to set up Research Outreach this was one of the first decisions we made – no one, anywhere in the world, would have to pay to access our content. We also didn’t want to clutter our website and publications with adverts. Instead, we ask the researchers we work with to pay for our services. We are proud of what we do and confident that we provide a good communications service. Check out some of the testimonials we’ve received from the researchers we’ve featured in the past.
Do the researchers you work with pay for your services?
Yes. We’d love to offer our services for free but to do that we would have to pass the cost on to our readers or fill our website and publications with advertising. As we are committed to barrier-free communication of research, that is something we have promised never to do. In addition to the broad exposure that working with us brings, each researcher receives a copy of their article that they can use however they like. In the past, these have been taken to top-level meetings, used as a handout for study participants and formed part of open-day proceedings. We think we offer great value for money and a valuable service to these researchers.
Why do you charge contributors?
Charging the researchers we feature is the only way we can keep our content free to access for all readers. It is so important that the public and researchers in developing countries can access quality information about research. We feel very passionately that this should not be hidden behind a paywall.
How does charging the researchers benefit science?
To put it simply – so we don’t dilute the research! By not being beholden to any outside influences we are able to fully preserve the science we publish. We intentionally avoid advertising and sponsorship in our publications – not only does this make our content more of a pleasure to view and digest but it means we only rely on the research community, who we serve, to keep doing what we do.
Why do you choose not to have advertising?
Well, do you enjoy reading publications that are stuffed full of adverts? Or scrolling through online articles only to be distracted by a flashing ad on the sidebar? Neither do we! Our content is key to what we do and we want it to stand alone rather than be lost in a sea of promotional material. That said, we do partner with charities whose values align with ours to offer them free advertising in our publications. We are proud of these partnerships and we don’t feel that the minimal adverts intrude into our readers’ experience.
Do you have any sponsors or investors?
We do not. Sadly, a lot of investment comes with strings attached, with many investors wanting to focus on research that fits within their own narrative. We don’t want to discriminate against any research or researcher, even if what they are studying is considered controversial. We believe that everyone deserves a voice.
Research Outreach is a Community Interest Company (CIC). What is that?
CICs are not for profit. The Community Interest Company (or CIC) is a relatively new type of company established by the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004 and regulated by The Community Interest Company Regulations 2005. The CIC model is designed to provide an effective legal form for enterprises which aim to provide benefit to the community or to trade with a “social purpose”, rather than to make a profit.
What is your “social purpose”?
Our social purpose is two-fold; to provide the research community we serve with Public Outreach excellence and to establish and grow a hub of people united by a common goal: an interest in science
How do you, as a CIC, differ from a privately-owned company?
One word: transparency. Given the nature of CICs, it is important that they are properly regulated to ensure they’re acting in the interest of the community. As such, they must file an Annual Report each year explaining how they are achieving these ends and how they are engaging with stakeholders. This report is accessible via the public register and the CIC Regulator has the capacity to carry out investigations if a company is no longer acting in the interest of the community or complying with the asset lock. If you’re interested in finding out more, there’s an interesting article here.
Does being a CIC benefit the research community?
The focus of a CIC is to serve. They are not driven to profit shareholders but to improve their target community. It is not possible for a CIC to convert into an ordinary limited company to extract profit. At Research Outreach we put any profit directly back into our business, creating more resources for education, developing our audience, promoting researchers and labs and whatever else we can think of to make scholarly publishing a more inclusive place. We aim to give back to the research community by providing free outreach materials and resources to researchers in developing countries
How are you different to other publications such as American Scientist or New Scientist?
We love both of these publications! But we are also very different to them. We are not journalists, we are not a traditional news outlet and we will never charge readers to access our content. Instead, we are a free, open, public outreach platform. We work directly with each of the researchers whose work we feature and they have final approval of each article to ensure complete accuracy in the depiction of their work. Communication is very different to journalism – Research Outreach was founded to help researchers share their work with a wider audience rather than interrogate that work.