Telling stories has always been a good way to grab people’s attention and get them to understand what is important, but it’s not something that academic researchers are very accustomed to doing – after all, is it not a normal part of their training. However, carefully worded and nuanced academic reports – however precise and accurate – just don’t stimulate in the reader the excitement that the research they describe often deserves.
In 2010 the Academy of Social Sciences realised that the wider public and even policy makers were too often unaware of the wonderful things that social scientists have done and that the term ‘social scientist’ doesn’t raise easy images in people’s minds. We decided that something needed to be done to communicate better who social scientists are and what they do, as well as why they are a really important part of our research community, not just carrying on complex and sometimes difficult conversations about methods and theories, but providing practical, evidence-based ways of improving all our lives.
So we set about bringing together some small, ‘taster’ collections of easy-to-read stories from a range of disciplines, but with a single, overarching theme, which we could put into the hands of politicians, influencers and anyone who’d enjoy a good read celebrating the success of the UK’s social science community. By doing this we can raise people’s awareness of how important social science is and encourage everyone to understand and value it a bit more as a result.
We developed a format that would be attractive to handle and easy to pop into a briefcase, handbag or pocket waiting to fill a quiet moment. We tell the stories in as straightforward a way as possible, using the language of the newspapers rather than the academic world. Colourful images help bring out the key features of the stories and naming the lead researchers personalises the work and begins to introduce to a wider audience a few of the huge number of dedicated and highly trained people working on unpicking, understanding and helping to solve important problems that affect our society. PDF versions – available free to download from the websites of the Academy and its Campaign for Social Science – make the booklets widely available.
By launching each issue to an invited audience of policymakers and other influencers in locations that are easy for them to reach – Westminster, Edinburgh or Cardiff to date – we have been able to share social science’s amazing success story very effectively. And, most importantly perhaps, we find that they are welcomed by their readers. Ministers of State – Mark Drakeford, David Willetts and Vince Cable for example – have all spoken enthusiastically at our launches, delighted and proud to be able to celebrate UK researchers helping to move our society forward. The most recent of these was held in Cardiff on 25th November.
Our booklets aim to make the case for the social sciences – they do what they say on the cover! No one reading them can fail to be impressed by the way in which high quality social science work has made – and continues to make – a difference to all of us. Wales has good reason to celebrate: its social science community is strong, rich and diverse, and it has politicians who understand where to look for advice. This booklet – the tenth in the Making the Case for the Social Sciences series – is a timely and welcome confirmation of the wealth of social science expertise to be found in Wales.
The Academy of Social Sciences exists to be the voice of social science in the UK. As part of this mission we seek to promote, celebrate and communicate the real and very important difference that social science research makes to our society. In 2011 the Academy founded the Campaign for Social Science to help that promotional work and raise the profile of social science in the public, media and Parliament.
All booklets can be downloaded here and hard copies (including a Welsh translation of Issue 10) can be requested free of charge by contacting the Academy office.
This article was written by Madeleine Barrows, Assistant Director (Secretariat), Academy for Social Sciences.