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What is it we do when we blog about research or make use other kinds of social web media in communicating research? Do we disseminate information? Are we sharing information? Are we expressing viewpoints? Do we ask questions and enter into dialogue? Are we discussing? Are we communicating?

Yesterday, as reading a project description for a research study from Aarhus University on the use of Web 2.0 in disseminating research to other researchers, partners and the public I came to think of the above. To me it is obvious that using social media to tell the world about our work is a form of communication. Given, communication covers several sub elements. For communication to take place someone (the blogger) have to ‘send out a message’ or disseminate information (a through a blog post). Questions can be raised to the reader and through the comments function the reader has the possibility to react and comment. Communication between sender and reader is a possibility. Links may be made to other sources which is also a kind of communication with other senders of information. It is all sort of built into each other, and talking about one without the other can in some cases be difficult.

What struck me in the before mentioned project description was that a clear distinction is made between disseminating research and communicating research (translated from Danish):

The project aims to investigate the dissemination potential in new forms of research dissemination tools made ​​possible by new digital media. Focus of the project is the use of digital media for research dissemination and communication between scientists themselves, from researchers to partners in firms and institutions and the public. The goal is to connect research dissemination to communication, exchange and cooperation. The key is to create visibility for research through using new digital media.

I am puzzled a little by the project description. The project aims to investigate the dissemination potential in new digital media, but I assume what they are interested in is the communication potential. After all this is the advantage new digital media has over traditional platforms for research communication such as journals and reports. Maybe I am obsessing over words here but it just seems like a funny choice of words.

Speaking to one of the lead researchers behind the study I asked if this distinction was intentional and if so how each concept should be understood. He explained that dissemination was regarded as one-way communication, where the researcher passes on his knowledge, views, findings but without entering into dialogue with the receiver. Communication on the other hand is characterised by a dialogue, communication (or the possibility of it) between the sender and the receiver. Web 2.0 provides an excellent frame for turning dissemination through the web into something more than just dissemination.

Dissemination of research is of course nothing new. It has happened for as long as science has (and longer). Scientific journals, lecturers, reports, interviews in news papers and magazines, websites, databases etc. are ways to disseminate research. The new digital media such as podcasts, blogs, etc. are in relation to this just additional platforms for telling the world about you research. What is unique about web 2.0 and the social media is that it is actually able to provide a base for communicating, equal to the communication that can happen at research seminar, at debates or in discussion groups. They are in their core social.

What I do find interesting about the project from Aarhus University is the last part about connecting dissemination to communication, exchange and cooperation. Researchers may not all be brilliant at it, but most of them are aware (and interested in) that it is necessary to disseminate their findings and to that end social media is just another platform. What many of them perhaps know less about and may need training and sensibilitation to is how to communicate, exchange and cooperate with other than their usual suspects. Changing perspective a little and learning how communication is  linked to disseminating, but that the communcation aspect may  influence how and what to disseminate.

So far very few Danish researchers uses blogs, Twitter, Google+ etc. for disseminating or communicating their research. And within health the practice is almost non-existent (with a few exceptions). So there is definitely a lot to do in making Danish public health researchers familiar with the web as a platform not just for disseminating but also for communicating!