Follow-up workshop on research communication and outreach with Leonid Klimov (Dekoder)
The lecture and discussion on 12 January 2021 outlined key issues relating to the intersection of academic research and journalism in the context of efforts to promote research communication, i.e. making aspects of research available not only to academic audiences. In his talk, Leonid Klimov, co-founder of the Dekoder platform, underlined the joys of working with complexity: making the complexity of the world understandable and dealing with the complexity of finding successful formats and content for communicating with audiences.
There will be a follow-up workshop once in-person events are possible. This page outlines how to prepare for that event, as well as summarizing the lecture.
An der Schnittstelle zwischen Wissenschaft und Journalismus, oder Freude an der Komplexität | At the Intersection of Research and Journalism, or The Joys of Complexity
Lecture | Vortrag: Leonid Klimov (Dekoder)
This lecture and discussion on 12 January 2021 outlined key issues relating to the intersection of academic research and journalism in the context of efforts to promote research communication, i.e. making aspects of research available not only to academic audiences. In his talk, Leonid Klimov, co-founder of the Dekoder platform, underlined the joys of working with complexity: making the complexity of the world understandable and dealing with the complexity of finding successful formats and content for communicating with audiences.
Preparing for a follow-up workshop
The workshop offered an introduction to the themes of research communication and impact, as well as Dekoder’s ways of working with journalists and scholars. Doctoral and postdoctoral researchers at IOS and the University of Regensburg are invited to participate in a follow-up practical workshop. Originally planned for April 2021, this follow-up workshop will take place once it is possible to hold in-person events in Regensburg again.
In order to prepare for the workshop, participants are asked to conduct two parallel long-term processes of reflection:
- To observe and keep a record of how the themes you are working on are addressed in the media. This should give an impression of what the existing level of knowledge on the subject among a relatively well-informed audience could be. It will also reveal perhaps what preconceptions you might encounter.
- To reflect on why you are conducting research, what inspires you to do it and how others could be inspired to take an interest in it. This process of self-observation and monitoring could involve noting down particularly inspiring moments of research, from texts and sources read. The aim is to develop ideas for ways of making your theme attractive to others.
The workshop will then draw on your reflections as a basis for developing ideas on how to make your research available as part of research communication.
Reflections and tips from the lecture in January
Leonid Klimov outlined several key themes and offered practical reflections on transferring research into the public realm, for consumption beyond academic audiences and outside traditional scholarly formats. His reflections come from the position of an active scholar and, first and foremost, editor and journalist with Dekoder.
One key point of reflection was his call for scholars to consider not just “what” they want to communicate while discussing with journalists/programmers “how” to do it, but also to take an active stake in the “why” of research communication. Often, he argued, this is left up to readers – with scholars attempting to communicate with audiences on the basis of the assumption that their subject is inherently interesting. Such an approach can instead lead to something of a “so what!?” response, as one person put it in the discussion.
Successful research communication always bears readers in mind. A practical tip for this is finding “raisins”, or attractive stories and eye-catching moments connected to the theme and materials being addressed. Such anecdotes or moments offer readers a way into a subject, making it attractive and relatable. This is opposed to a kind of linear “suitcase” approach, when scholars give the impression they are unwilling to adapt the content of the knowledge they possess to the expected audience or to unpack the contents in an appropriate way.
The composition of texts and their accessibility is something else that Leonid Klimov stressed. Practical aspects such as producing texts that are readable and avoid jargon or unclear formulations was one important point. Another is ensuring the length is suited to online reading – 12,000 characters is often ideal in this context. However, with suitable pacing and structuring of texts, they can be longer when they go in-depth into a subject. A regular structure, such as through chapters with a regular rhythm – an attractive opening, then a compact series of key, more complex paragraphs, followed by a suitably insightful but less demanding conclusion to a chapter – can help readers stay engaged. Testing material on readers before publication can help establish where they switch off.
Of course, the innovative work of Dekoder, much of which is done in-house not only by professional journalists but also by people who have learned frontend programming, is not based solely on texts. There are interactive dossiers combing longer and shorter texts, graphics, videos, and even games. Likewise, the in-depth Specials include multiple formats – including close readings and commentaries on, for example, Putin’s speechers, as well as expert commentaries – to offer comprehensive coverage of a theme, such as the Crimean crisis and annexation, as well as cultural themes such as the Russian Banja or steam bath tradition, which –naturally – is addressed with impressive graphics and includes a “raisin”: that even the International Space Station has a banja.
As Leonid Klimov outlined, the idea of Dekoder is to offer insight into the “DNA” of Russia and the broader issues of international relations interconnected with Russia. This means turning to the experts on the subject, often scholars, and making the issues accessible to broader readerships by sharing the skills of successful journalism. Where certain aspects of Russian life might be unfamiliar, Dekoder links to in-depth descriptions. The Dacha or holiday home is one example. Dekoder shows that the two fields, research and journalism, should engage in conversation more often, establishing common ground through dialogue. Research communication is an aim can be realized by hybridizing research and journalism. This is the aim of the dekoder lab project which is currently in development with a range of academic, media and funding partners.
The broader significance of the Dekoder project is that it seeks to address asymmetries in knowledge about Russia and the region. Because most readers of online news come from the country where the reports are published, the internet does not immediately or automatically break down barriers. Given limited exchanges and information flows, it is easy to repeat established narratives and tropes about the country. The aim of Dekoder, and what makes it appealing to readers on the broader level, is that it offers insight that reflects the less visible debates taking place in civil society or in less-accessible media discourses. This is what has made it successful in attracting readers among policymakers, diplomats and other media organizations, thus reflecting how research communication can have real-world impact.
Working with media and research organizations from various countries pluralizes the voices contributing to the project, which is particularly important when addressing places outside Russia, such as Nagorno-Karabakh and Belarus, or the Crimean peninsula. There are also plans to develop globally comparative themes, where phenomena affecting Russia would be presented in their global and historical context. Walls – like the Berlin wall, Great Wall of China, or ever increasing numbers of border walls – would offer one pertinent theme.
As the above examples show, the platform deals with real events, thus an important question raised related to how successful narrative writing can avoid the risk of fictionalization. To explain, Leonid Klimov drew on a model from Wolf Schmid, a scholar in narratology, who argued that factual writing sees the broad complexity of the world and seeks to work it down into a successful narrative text, an achievement that provides a sense of satisfaction. Fiction and creative writing takes an idea for a text and often seeks to build it up into a storyworld, creating complexity that provides intellectual aesthetic pleasure.
In the end, keeping the audience in mind, having an idea of their potential existing knowledge and what might intrigue and inspire them, is key to all successful writing and communication. This is something reflected in the form and the content of the texts, or interactive formats, that emerge.