41 Dissemination as an academic responsibility

Researchers and research institutions are obliged to disseminate scientific knowledge to a broader audience outside the research community.

Dissemination of research involves communicating scientific results, methods and values from specialised research fields to people outside the disciplines. Dissemination may be aimed at researchers in other disciplines, or at a broader audience. It may be a matter of disseminating established insights into the discipline, or results from more recent research.

The relationship between research and reporting is especially close in the humanities and social sciences, where a scholarly publication often also is a form of dissemination. In some cases there is not even a clear line between research and dissemination, because the knowledge is mediated as part of a public debate which in turn influences the research questions and answers.

One of the main reasons for dissemination of research is to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the general public. Dissemination is also important for a well-functioning democratic society. Dissemination should contribute to maintaining and developing cultural traditions, to informing public opinion and to the dissemination of knowledge of relevance to society. Society has invested large sums in research, and therefore has a right to share the results.

42 Requirements for individuals and institutions

Research institutions must create conditions for extensive and broad dissemination of research characterised by high quality and relevance.

Research dissemination makes ethical demands on individuals and institutions alike.

Universities and university colleges have a special responsibility to disseminate knowledge, results and scientific norms and values, both in their teaching of students and in relation to public administration, cultural life and business and industry.37 Institutions should promote dissemination, for example when appointing staff, in teaching, or through financial incentives. Institutions should also encourage dissemination in different arenas and through new kinds of learning, knowledge sharing and discourse, whether it be through the media, lecture series, conferences for non-academics or through public hearings.

Dissemination of research is also associated with freedom of expression and the infrastructure requirement in Article 100 of the Norwegian Constitution: «The authorities of the state shall create conditions that facilitate open and enlightened public discourse.»38 Also the academic communities must contribute to these public discourses. Constitutional democracies with well-functioning public administrations and market economies are contingent on spheres in civil society that are primarily characterised not by principles of profitability and management logic, but by the principle that it is arguments that should count.

Universities and university colleges also have a responsibility to maintain and further develop Norwegian as an academic language.39 A Norwegian academic language is important for disseminating results both to those involved and to the general public and in the public discourse.

Good dissemination calls for interaction and cooperation between research institutions and other institutions such as the mass media, schools, art institutions, communities with various beliefs and voluntary associations. Dissemination may take place with varying participation by researchers and others (such as journalists and teachers), and may be written, verbal or based on other approaches (such as exhibitions and electronic media). All those who take part in such dissemination are subject to the same norms of research ethics.

43 Interdisciplinary discourse and public deliberation

An important part of dissemination of research in a modern society emerges from the interaction between specialists in various academic disciplines and the public discourse.

Many of the major challenges facing society related, for example, to ecology, globalisation and human rights, call for interdisciplinary cooperation and the integration of academic knowledge from a number of fields. There is therefore a strong need to translate and communicate knowledge both across different disciplines and to a broader public. The development of multi-disciplinary fora at research institutions provides a good basis both for discourse among specialists and for dissemination to the broader public.

Interdisciplinary discourse can define the basic demands made of a culture of academic discourse. Researchers must express themselves clearly enough for colleagues from other fields and other participants in the discourse to take a reasoned position on their assertions. As in the case of internal academic discussions, renderings of the contributions of others must not be tendentious and persons with other opinions must not have unreasonable views falsely attributed to them.

Dissemination should be clear and plainly express both academic uncertainty and the limitations of individual disciplines. Researchers should express clearly the limitations from the perspective of their own discipline and expertise in the field in question, which may make it easier for readers and the general public to determine whether other disciplinary perspectives could lead to other interpretations. Such interdisciplinary and inter-institutional discussions can serve as a sort of extended peer review.

44 Participation in public debate

Researchers should contribute scientific arguments to the public debate. Researchers should express themselves fairly and clearly in order to avoid tendentious interpretations of research results.

When researchers take part in public debate, they are using academic expertise as a basis for contributions to the formation of public opinion. They may contribute information in an area that is being debated, they may take a reasoned position on controversial topics, or they may seek to introduce new topics onto the public agenda.

Researchers have a responsibility to express themselves clearly and precisely, so that their research cannot be interpreted tendentiously and misused in political, cultural, social and economic contexts. Researchers should also engage in discussions about reasonable interpretations and justifiable use of research results. Other organisations and institutions, such as public relations departments, the mass media, political parties, interest organisations, enterprises and administrative bodies also have a responsibility to conduct themselves reasonably and acceptably in this context.

Participation in public debates places great demands on fairness, reasoning and clarity. There may be grey areas between participation as a researcher and participation as a citizen. Researchers should state their discipline and not only their degree or position, when acting in the capacity of expert. When academics take part as citizens, they should not use their titles or refer to special academic expertise.

45 Accountability in dissemination

The requirement of accountability is equally stringent in dissemination as in publication.

The audience of popularised academic presentations cannot be expected to be able to verify assertions made by specialised researchers. Accordingly, the requirement of accountability is equally stringent in dissemination as in academic publication.

Footnotes/endnotes and reference lists may seem cumbersome, but they can also help the interested reader to navigate through a large body of literature. It is also important to remember that specialists in other disciplines are part of the relevant audience.

Researchers may share hypotheses, theories and preliminary findings with the public in the course of a project, but must be cautious about presenting preliminary results as final conclusions.

46 Reporting results to participants

Researchers have a special obligation to report results back to the participants in a comprehensible and acceptable manner.

Participants in research have a right to receive something in return. This also applies to research where large groups of informants are involved. Dissemination of research may help to meet this requirement when direct contact with each participant is not possible.

Participants must also have the opportunity to correct misunderstandings where this is possible. Dialogue between researchers and participants in the course of the research project may often strengthen the research. Researchers must present the results so that key findings and insights are communicated in a manner that can be understood by the participants.

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[37] Section 1-1, 1-3 of the Universities and Colleges Act.

[38] Article 100 of the Norwegian Constitution.

[39] Section 1-7 of the Universities and Colleges Act.