University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar > Two types of success: epistemic exchange and societal impact in extra-academic research collaborations

Two types of success: epistemic exchange and societal impact in extra-academic research collaborations

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My aim in this paper is to criticise an assumption that is sometimes made explicitly in science policy, but is usually implicit in the literatures on extra-academic expertise and the democratisation of science. According to this assumption, in research collaborations breaking the boundaries of science, success in creating the wanted societal impact requires successful epistemic exchange. I argue that this is not the case, and present a case study as a counterexample. It is possible to succeed in creating the wanted societal impact through extra-academic collaboration while failing in epistemic exchange.

I will begin with an overview of a large and complex development: the democratisation of science and the increase of research collaborations with extra-academic experts. After that, I introduce three measures of success relevant in this context, focusing on the latter two. Following Gibbons et al. (1994) I call the first measure scientific excellence as defined by disciplinary peers. The second is the created societal impact. Its importance is emphasised in virtually all of the literature on the democratisation of science and extra-academic expertise – though the understanding of the nature of societal impact varies greatly. The third measure is epistemic exchange. Researchers provide something to the extra-academic participants in a collaborative project, but also gain something: knowledge and skills from extra-academic experts, a better understanding of the values at stake from citizen participants, or new perspectives and useful criticism from stakeholders (e.g. Epstein 1995; Kitcher 2011; Wylie 2015). The creation of functioning trading zones (Galison 1997) or boundary objects (Star & Griesemer 1989) can be seen as indicators of success in epistemic exchange.

It is often assumed in the literature that success in creating the wanted societal impact requires successful epistemic exchange. I have conducted a case study where I followed a two-year research collaboration between social scientists, journalists and artists. I use the case as a counterexample, and argue that it is possible to create the wanted societal impact through extra-academic collaboration, even if the participants fail in epistemic exchange.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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