Innovation must not be kept in closed circles of academics

I think there is merit in sharing innovation in closed circuits of academics who understand each other and can therefore help each other enhance the output. This is the case when we share our research in strictly for academics only conferences and drive to publish papers in respected journals that are likewise read by academics too (they are largely not consumable for a majority of folks anyway!).

But, there lies a greater opportunity when academics reach out and participate in industry discussions and conferences, publications, and other fora that are attended (or consumed) not only by fellow academics but by policy-makers, the general public, entrepreneurs, and others who seek to drive change in a given space.

So much of academic achievement relies on the research productivity measure (number of articles published per year) that everything else (e.g., incentives) seems to rest solely on this KPI. Of course, publishing is a necessary milestone. Even I want to get published! It has a key role to play in ensuring we continuously generate original, high-impact research. But, should the buck end there only for innovation to gather dust in archives?

I have asked this so many times before — if we continue to work the way the system of incentives is designed to produce articles, how long will it take for the implications of such great, innovative research to generate social impact? Even graduate studies around the world are anchored on publication counts; as an incentive, once you meet the threshold, you get incentives.

A small faculty of, say, 10 professors hit the target of 1.5 articles per year. That is already, at the very least, 15 original work that can be converted into hundreds of content that can be used to craft new content pieces that can reach millions of people including policy-makers who can enact the conceptual change great research vividly paints.

Do a quick Google Scholar search on any given topic and you will see hundreds of pages with links to scholarly work. One can’t help but wonder the degree to which these have generated some impact in the real world. We’re sitting on a lot of content which we can attribute to the effectiveness of the incentives to publish. But what’s next?

Not everyone gets to be a Nobel laureate that every time they publish an article, there is some direct impact to policy generated. A vast majority of academics never gets a Nobel. So the question we must ask ourselves is, how can we drive impact for the research that we do beyond publishing for our own communities of fellow academics?

The academe is home to an insane amount of intellectual and creative horsepower. The opportunity is in how we can get that intellectual and creative horsepower to change the world. There is a lot of great work being produced in the academia, now how do we use these to actualise the change we want to see in the world?

The JSTOR Daily is one such awesome initiative that tries to bridge scholarly work and the general public. Its proposition “where news meets its scholarly match” addresses the opportunity to convert what otherwise would have been kept within the same closed circles of academics to knowledge that is relevant to more people.

See: https://daily.jstor.org/

We need more initiatives like this. And new forms of pushing the work towards real social impact beyond closed-circuit knowledge creation.

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