Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ICA Pre-conference on "Bridging Scholar/Activist Divides in the Field of Communications" May 22, 2008, Montreal

Bridging Scholar/Activist Divides in the Field of Communications

ICA Half-Day Pre-Conference Call for Participants
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association
Le Centre Sheraton Montreal
Montreal, Canada

Organized by:
Becky Lentz, Visiting Scholar, New York University and Senior Ford Foundation Fellow
Philip M. Napoli, Director, Donald McGannon Communication Research Center
Milton Mueller, Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University
Joe Karaganis, Social Science Research Council and Director of the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Sphere Program

Deadline for submissions: 5pm EST on November 1st

"Communicating social impacts" requires deliberate attention to the role that scholarship plays in affecting social change. This pre-conference for the annual meeting of the International Communication Association addresses divides between research and advocacy in the field of communications in issue areas such as public health, media diversity, communications policy, global communications and Internet governance, journalism, technology usage and diffusion, and political communication.

When it comes to connecting research and advocacy, the field of communications often seems riven by contradictory impulses. On the one hand, the field has long lamented its historically marginalized position in the academy and in policymaking relative to economics, sociology, political science, and other established disciplines. Yet communications scholars often share a hesitancy to engage with policymakers or policy advocates out of fear of sacrificing academic objectivity, or out of a desire to avoid "applied" scholarship, though foundational scholars in the field, ranging from Harold Lasswell to James Carey, have consistently advocated more public engagement by communications researchers - particularly in relation to policy issues. And in
communications policy, the size and diversity of the issue advocacy community in the U.S. and internationally has increased considerably in recent years, as have the needs of this community for high quality research to ground their claims for a more democratic and just media.

The intensification of activism around communication-information policy issues suggests that scholars conducting research on those issues have exciting opportunities to link up with advocacy communities or to directly engage with journalists, government and industry policymakers with research that proposes or supports particular policy solutions. There are, however, a range of practical and institutional impediments that prevent such linkages and discourage scholars from advocating policy positions derived from their work. These impediments include institutional disincentives within academia (particularly within the social sciences) for "applied" or "engaged" scholarship; a dearth of fora and communication channels linking advocacy and academic communities; and sometimes divergent perspectives among scholars, advocates, and policymakers, on the appropriate role and function of research in policymaking.

This pre-conference -- which is part of the annual meeting of the International Communication Association in Montreal ( -- seeks to build upon recent successes forging tighter linkages between researchers and advocates (see, for example, Robert McChesney's work via Free Press; the National Consortium for Media Policy Studies [COMPASS], the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere project at the Social Science Research Council; the Global Internet Governance Academic Network, or GigaNet; the Collective Behavior and Social Movements division of the American Sociological Association; Sociologists Without Borders, the Civil Society Practitioner Program at the Oxford Internet Institute, the post-graduate diploma in Media Advocacy being offered by the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance in New Delhi, and other organized forms of engaged scholarship), with an eye toward developing concrete solutions that could contribute to an environment in which researchers and advocates are better able to engage in mutually beneficial collaborations, and in which, ideally, the traditional distinctions that have existed between scholars and advocates can be diminished.

We encourage participation from individuals or groups in academe, journalism, industry, government, and civil society who are engaged with advocacy issues or conducting research on those issues. The goal is to coalesce a set of concrete proposals for institutional change that can lead to tighter linkages between research and issue advocacy.

The tentative plan is for the meeting to be organized along three tracks:

Track 1: Bridging Organizational Cultures
What aspects of the cultures of advocacy groups and academic researchers inhibit stronger linkages between research and advocacy? What specific institutional changes are needed to facilitate changes in these organizational cultures? Are there lessons to be derived from specific disciplines, or from specific national contexts, that can illuminate possible approaches to bridging research and advocacy? Can the overlaps and distinctions between "applied," "engaged," and "public" scholarship as they relate to communications research be clarified in ways that could reduce scholars' inhibitions related to engaging in advocacy-related work? Can graduate programs be implemented in ways that better incentivize and acculturate researchers on how their research can have social impact? Are there other forms of training/certification that could be implemented to nurture scholar/advocate hybrids? Findings from the SSRC's Collaborative Grants project and other systematic efforts at bridging research and advocacy will be shared.

Track 2: Mapping Research Needed for Social Impacts
What are the key policy questions (local, national, regional, global) being addressed by advocates and movement leaders that would be helped by research attention? What mechanisms currently in place have successfully facilitated the kind of information exchanges, networking and coordination that would create a strategic complementarity between research scholars and advocacy communities? When has this relationship failed to work properly and why? Are there new types of bridging organizations that are - or that should be - in place to facilitate this exchange?

Track 3: Engaging in Public Scholarship: Communicating Social Impacts
What strategies and tactics can best move the results of scholarship out of the academy and into the hands of decision makers? What are the key barriers to communicating scholarship to various constituencies (the press, policymakers, NGOs, industry, funders/donors, the specific constituencies, etc.) that need to be overcome? Are there particular exemplars in terms of institutional structures or programs that can inform and guide efforts in the communications research field?

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Those interested in participating in this pre-conference are asked to submit an abstract of no more than 500 words addressing one of the three tracks outlined above that includes how the participant intends to address one or more of the questions outlined in one of the three track descriptions. Included with this abstract should be a background statement of no more than 300 words about the participant that includes a brief summary of any recent or ongoing activities /research by the participant that address the subject matter of the relevant track.
Scholars researching social movements in the field of communications are encouraged to submit abstracts.

This half-day pre-conference will take a workshop format, with selected participants asked to give very brief, informal presentations that trigger active conversation and informed discussion related both to their presentation and to the presentations of the other conference participants across all three tracks.

Participants will also be asked to contribute to a process of issue mapping and sharing of models and ideas ahead of the meeting, via a wiki and/or other tools such as the SSRC's Media Research Hub ( This will be hosted by the SSRC, as part of its 'Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere' program. If there is independent interest in continuing these conversations, these services can be maintained (or spun off).

Deadline for submission is 5pm EST on November 1st. Abstracts should be submitted electronically (as a Word attachment) to Jessica Crowell of the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University at Please include "ICA Pre-Conference Submission" in the subject line.

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About the Pre-Conference Organizers
Becky Lentz is a Visiting Scholar at New York University and a Senior Ford Foundation Fellow. She was the founding program officer of the Ford Foundation's Electronic Media Policy portfolio, which has sought to forge tighter linkages between researchers and advocates in the communications policy arena. (

Philip M. Napoli is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Director of the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University. The McGannon Center has long-served as a research partner and resource for the public interest and advocacy communities. (

Joe Karaganis is a Program Officer in the Social Science Research Council and Director of the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere program, which is dedicated to enhancing the role that research plays in a wide range of issue areas related to communications, culture, and the democratic process. (

Milton Mueller is a Professor in the School of Information and Co-Director and Founder of the Convergence Center at Syracuse University. He is a partner in the Internet Governance Project, an interdisciplinary consortium of academics that conducts research and advocacy work in the areas of international governance and Internet policy. (

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