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New centre to investigate links between research, media and public policy

The Media Centre for Public Policy and Knowledge Mobilization in Winnipeg will examine how to get research out of the university and in front of government.

By DIANE PETERS | SEP 04 2018

“How do we get the message out from the ivory tower of universities, and how does that then get viewed by government?” asks Shannon Sampert, associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg. That’s the double-barreled question her newly launched Media Centre for Public Policy and Knowledge Mobilization will seek to answer.

Dr. Sampert started the centre this summer, and the fledgling hub consists, so far, of her and one part-time staffer. She’ll soon bring on a student to help with social media. Dr. Sampert, a former journalist, is also editor-in-chief of EvidenceNetwork, a website out of U of Winnipeg that publishes evidence-backed stories and media backgrounders written by academics for a general audience — all pieces have Creative Commons licenses and often get reprinted in traditional publications. That site will get folded into the media centre. “EvidenceNetwork is something we’re going to use as a study for the bigger media centre,” says Dr. Sampert. After all, the site, which dates back to 2011, offers an established venue for knowledge mobilization.

And while the university community speaks often of the importance of knowledge mobilization, Dr. Sampert suspects it doesn’t get properly recognized by institutions. “We insist on it, and yet when people write op-eds or do television interviews, very few organizations actually give that any kind of priority on their activity reports,” she says.

Dr. Sampert, who studies politics, media and gender, would like to see more research on the link between public scholarship and promotion, as well as the influence of gender on academia’s perception of media work. “What we have found anecdotally is that young women who do TV or become media experts get extreme pushback and get treated poorly.”

She also sees the potential for the new centre to examine how media stories directly influence public policy. For instance, one EvidenceNetwork piece on disability-benefit clawbacks in Ontario seemed to trigger a change in the law. On the other side of knowledge mobilization, she says she’s also seen research projects and methods improve after academics share their results publicly. “When you do this kind of work you get great feedback, and not just from people within your inner network. You hear things you’ve never heard before.”

With numerous topics to pursue, Dr. Sampert expects to link to other groups at U of Winnipeg, such as the Prairie Climate Centre as well as students and faculty in the master’s in public administration program. Outside of her institution, she’s already working with the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland and says she’s open to connecting with other universities for research projects.

For now, the centre will use funding from the EvidenceNetwork, which receives money from the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and other agencies. Dr. Sampert has also applied for funding from her university, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Her goal is to launch the centre’s activities with a conference on knowledge mobilization and fake news next spring in Winnipeg. The location is particularly important to Dr. Sampert, who says she’s thrilled to have a hub for research on “the symbiotic relationship between academia, media and public policy” in “the geographical centre of North America.”

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