Transforming astrobiology research and innovation: embedding an ethos of engaged research

Holliman, Richard; Marino, Alessandra; Berardi, Andrea; Grand, Ann; Mistry, Jay; Jafferally, Deirdre; Thomas, Raquel; Roberts, Grace; Marcus, Carol-Ann; Roopsind, Indranee; Roberts, Anthony; Davies, Sarah-Jane; Pearson, Victoria; Cooper, Hannah and Olsson-Francis, Karen (2021). Transforming astrobiology research and innovation: embedding an ethos of engaged research. In: Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference: Time, Technology and Transformation, 24-27 May 2021, Online.



UK Research has been transformed over the past 10 years due to the staged introduction of the impact agenda; initially, as a requirement of applications to public funders, and then as an element of sector-wide research audits. We will begin this presentation with a brief review to explain these changes, drawing on selected theories of epistemology, and the findings from a recent research collaboration undertaken with a UK public funder.

In response to the scale of these changes, UK Universities have been given opportunities by public funders to review and revise their organisational structures and cultural practices to adapt to the increased requirements to engage with ‘publics’ in ways that are meaningful to them. In the second section, we will briefly review the findings and key actions from a project undertaken at the Open University, UK to respond to these changes. These are embodied in our Senate-approved concept of ‘engaged research’, encompassing the different ways that researchers meaningfully interact with stakeholders, user communities, members of the public, facilitating engagement over any or all stages of a research process, from issue formulation, the production or co-creation of new knowledge, to knowledge evaluation and dissemination.

The UK research landscape continues to evolve. In the final section, we will discuss how we have embedded theoretical concepts and practical approaches to promote ‘fairness in knowing’ and reduce ‘epistemic injustice’ in an ongoing project. The vehicle for this discussion is astrobiology, an emerging scientific field that encompasses 1) questions of whether life can exist beyond the Earth; 2) space governance and planetary protection; 3) inclusive innovation for international development; 4) commercially-viable microbiological solutions; and 5) educational innovation in developing nations. We will conclude by arguing that engaged research can transform research and innovation, moving science communicators beyond perennial arguments about theory vs. practice.

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