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Podcasting for Public Engagement: Why Podcast?

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Last year, Kira Allmann (DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies) co-produced a podcast series called RightsUp funded by the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund. Here, she tells us why podcasting is a great public engagement tool.

Academics often face a challenge when it comes to reaching beyond the ivory tower and sharing their research with a wider audience. And it’s become increasingly important to think about public engagement at every stage in an academic career for reasons that range from the intellectual to the practical – sharing information and expertise, inspiring interest in our subject areas, gaining exposure in our fields, and seeking out funding and employment opportunities. Public engagement helps keep academic researchers plugged into the wider world around them, and that leads to more innovative research and new avenues for collaboration and constructive feedback. But the question always arises: how to engage a broader public?


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Kira, Laura and Max being awarded AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund support

In this post, I want to make the case for podcasting as a creative, flexible and compelling tool for academic public engagement. Essentially, podcasting is episodic radio programming for the Internet: audio (and sometimes video) content available at any time, anywhere, just a click away. Last year, I began co-producing, along with Laura Hilly and Max Harris, a podcast series called RightsUp for the Oxford Human Rights Hub. We received a small grant from the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund to launch the series and produce several episodes. We learned many valuable lessons in producing the series, which explores global perspectives on human rights issues in an accessible format. Based on that experience, today I’ll cover three key reasons why podcasting is so well suited to public engagement.

Affordability.

Academics, and especially research students, frequently operate on tight budgets (we’ve all been there), and finding funding for large projects requiring technical expertise can be difficult. Podcasting is supremely affordable, and anyone – yes, anyone – with a computer, a recording device, and no prior experience can create a podcast.
You can create a high-quality podcast at home with tools that you likely already own, such as a laptop, a smartphone, or a simple audio recorder. No high tech equipment is necessary, as most reporters’ recorders come with USB connectivity and most smartphones have a built-in recording feature. For RightsUp, we used iPhone’s Voice Memos. If you want to boost the sound quality of your recordings, a few low-cost purchases can go a long way, such as a lapel microphone that connects to your recording device.

After recording raw audio, the editing process is easier than ever with free, open source software like Audacity, which allows you to edit your recordings like a pro with countless online manuals and YouTube tutorials.

Producing a podcast can be done at very little financial cost, so the only resource you then need to allocate toward creating your podcast is time.

Accessibility

Podcasting is ideal for public engagement because the online audio format is extremely easy to share. Podcasts are simply audio files, and they can be broadcast on platforms such as Oxford University’s iTunesU account, a departmental website, hosting sites like Soundcloud, or even your own website or blog. Once your podcast has been posted, you can share it far and wide with a URL on social media, e-mail, or your CV.

But accessibility is about more than just the mechanics of posting and sharing. It’s also about repackaging your research material into short, conversational programmes that can be understood and enjoyed by disciplinary experts and non-experts alike. Creating a podcast is a worthwhile intellectual exercise in presenting subject material in an engaging way that can be digested by listeners who are unfamiliar with discipline-specific jargon and who may have no prior experience of the subject material.

Connectivity.

Finally, podcasts are a powerful tool for connecting and building relationships with other people in your field and beyond. There are many ways to structure a podcast, and listening to popular existing podcasts is a great way to explore the formats that seasoned podcasters are using. Regardless of what format you use, from a single-author essay to a panel show, podcasting offers opportunities to network with people and communities that you might not otherwise reach easily.

RightsUp is a scripted narrative podcast built around interviews with experts, activists and academics working in human rights. We found that doing interviews for the podcast gave us a channel through which to reach out to leaders in various human rights fields, who were almost universally enthusiastic to participate. After all, a podcast is a platform for your interviewees to be heard, too. Further, everyone you interview will likely want to share your podcast with their circles of colleagues and friends, increasing your impact. (Quick note: always remember to consider interview ethics when conducting podcast interviews. You must obtain consent from interviewees for their audio to be used in a podcast, and the University provides a downloadable consent form for this purpose.)

After hearing your podcast, listeners may contact you as they encounter topics that interest them, and some of those listeners may become future collaborators or professional colleagues. Podcast listeners often ‘subscribe’ to a podcast feed in order to receive updates when new episodes are available, so podcasting can help you build a regular, committed audience that will also tune in when you have other content or announcements to share, such as published articles, books, or guest lectures.

RightsUp has benefitted from all three of these core strengths of podcasting: affordability, accessibility, and connectivity. Podcasts are an engaging and adaptable medium for finding a wider audience, communicating topics that interest you, and bolstering your professional presentation and digital outreach skills. Just click, record and share.

This is the first of a series of posts on podcasting by Kira.