Thursday, 14 February 2013

The value of blogging and academic writing

So much has changed in the few years it has taken us to become familiar with social media. For example, I can:
  • have a thought cross my mind, write a blog about it, get a picture to accompany it from the web, and publish within minutes;
  • learn from Google Analytics if anyone reads the blog and puzzle why something, which I think is important, has so few views; 
  • tweet a link to the blog and let people know the blog has been posted;
  • post the blog as an update on LinkedIn and signpost to it, aswell as gain feedback;
  • learn if anyone thinks the blog has any value through retweets, blog, and LinkedIn comments;
  • post slides relating to the blog on Slideshare and see if anyone views or downloads.
Now if I had tried to explain to my grandmother, who used to shout at the TV when 'Dixon of Dock Green' was on, thinking she was helping them find the criminal, that she would be able to use #tags to converse with TV programmes, I can only guess what her reaction may have been.

Yet, sometimes I can see similarities between my grandmother's 'converstations' with the television and the value of academic writing. I will return to the similarity later.

When I write a blog, as I have illustrated above, there is ideally something akin to a conversation taking place. I'm engaged in a conversation with you, and you can give me a response which indicates, in some way, how you feel about what I have just said.

If the blog stimulates you to think about an issue which you may not otherwise have done, to me, it has some value. Better still, if you find the lessons learnt, which I frequently suggest, of use, it has some value. But the blog is, more often than not, 'my opinion' and I have previously highlighted opinions may not be worth the value we give to them.

Now it is slightly different with academic writing.

When I complete some research or submit a 'debate piece' for publication it generally takes months before I will see it in print (or online). Part of the reason for that is that it will go through a review process which provides some quality assurance that it make a valuable contribution to knowledge or debate. The peer review shifts from mere 'opinion' to something credible. But there is no conversation with the readers - I don't know if the academic paper is even read when published unless someone cites it or critiques in a subsequent paper.

The real value from academic writing comes when someone recognises the academic rigour involved and makes use of that to make better decisions in policy or practice.

So when I carried out and published research, with Andrew Erridge and Neil Rimmer on what lessons we could learn from how other countries had successfully navigated their way through austerity, the real value comes from us not making the same mistakes. And when I write a paper on how public procurement can help accelerate the economic recovery, the hope is that someone in the procurement policy or strategy world takes that on board. If that is not the case, like my grandmother, I may as well be shouting at the TV set - the value is not gained.

Today, provides just one more example, we've learnt that A&E waiting times have reached a decade high.  This was predictable from the research Erridge, Rimmer and I published on 'International lessons on austerity strategy'. Having been predicted, steps could have been taken to avoid the adverse consequences - they were not inevitable. Other lessons don't seemed to have been learnt either- in fact we appear to be making the same mistakes, ignoring what the research tells us, and treading blindly, as if in the dark,  forgetting that academic research could shine a light.

If only the value of academic writing could be recognised, not for it's past, but for what it tells us for the future and the way ahead, we would get real value. Come to think of it, isn't value for money one of the mantras of the government?

P.S. let me know if you want a copy of the academic papers referred to.

1 comment:

  1. Well put Gord, I look forward to further conversations about this!