A new research hub that will seek to understand how media influences policy-making decisions has launched at the University of Winnipeg.
The Media Centre for Public Policy and Knowledge Mobilization will also look at how research institutions commit to knowledge mobilization, which the Centre’s founding director Dr. Shannon Sampert described as “getting your information out to the public” in an email to J-Source.
The Centre will house EvidenceNetwork.ca, where Sampert is editor-in-chief. The website works with academics to turn their research into op-eds on public policy issues for publication in mainstream media. Sampert said she became aware that the op-eds were actually having an effect on public policy.
“So what we hope to do is start looking at the symbiosis between the media and policy makers and academics and how change can be affected,” said Sampert.
EvidenceNetwork.ca managing editor Kathleen O’Grady has been with the site since its inception seven years ago and said she noticed the impact of the op-eds almost instantly. One of the first concrete examples where she said she noticed a direct influence on policy was when former Ontario health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins quoted one of EvidenceNetwork.ca’s op-eds in his own op-ed recommending a national pharmacare program.
O’Grady said her team aims for solutions based op-eds so that it’s not just about pointing out a problem, but pointing in the direction of which a problem can be fixed.
“Even I’m surprised sometimes at how influential 700 words can be,” said O’Grady.
Sampert said she’s also interested in looking at how universities and funding organizations value knowledge mobilization. She is currently in New Zealand and Australia to discuss with colleagues how institutions encourage their professors to engage with the media, but don’t provide them with proper recognition.
“Universities and funding organizations talk about the need for professors to engage with the public, but for the most part, they really don’t give them credit for doing so when they write op-eds or appear in the media. And that can be very time consuming,” said Sampert. “This work isn’t counted in their performance evaluations even though it’s supposedly highly valued.”
Sampert said she asked News Media Canada chair Bob Cox to work with the Centre to help keep her and the team up-to-date on the news industry and its business models, which continue to experience rapid change.
Cox said that some people would argue public policy is almost entirely driven by what gets presented in the news media.
“With problems like the whole question of if news poverty is being worked on, what academics are doing is putting it in the public sphere and obviously it is more likely to have an impact,” Cox said. “That’s why I’m involved too, providing that link between serious research work that’s done … and the public.”
Sampert is looking to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to help with funding for the Centre. She is also applying to Health Canada for assistance to study how health research can affect public policy change.
A similar model is seen with the Canadian version of The Conversation, an international journalism site that reports on academic research and allows other news media organizations to republish its material. The Conversation was awarded approximately $200,000 from SSHRC to support the Canadian launch in 2016.
As an associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg, Sampert said she is hopeful that once funding comes in the Centre will be able to hire students from programs like political science, rhetoric and communications and the masters in public administration as research assistants. She said EvidenceNetwork.ca will also be hiring for positions in copy editing, writing, video, podcasts and social media.