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Sharing Scholarship with Broad Audiences via “Explainers”

Elyse Aurbach, PhD, Public Engagement Lead

Ellen Kuhn, Public Engagement Specialist

Rachel Niemer, PhD, Director of Outreach and Access

As the Center for Academic Innovation continues to explore how we can apply design frameworks and technology to develop new, innovative models for faculty to engage with the public, we have thought a fair bit about how videos or other media might facilitate public engagement. One experiment we will run this semester centers around collaborating with scholars to develop “explainers” to help bring recent scholarship to broader audiences.

What is an explainer?

As we see it, there are three types of explainer-style pieces:

  • A piece that unpacks or explains a specific abstract or complex idea in an interesting, accessible, and engaging way (e.g., here is an example of a really, really inspiring explainer that focuses on 16 levels of musical complexity),
  • A work that briefly summarizes or explains a work product, like a paper, report, or policy brief,
  • Or, an effort that showcases or describes a person or field of work, especially to emphasize how that work might be broadly impactful for different publics (here is an example of a wonderful explainer showcasing how a researcher’s personal experiences shaped his approach and perspective to his scholarly and public efforts).

Explainers can take many forms, including works of writing, short video or other media-based approaches, and infographics, among others. Regardless of the type, though, all explainers share a few important elements in common. These elements include:

  1. They are designed with a specific type of audience in mind — an explainer designed to quickly outline a policy position for a Congressperson will have different characteristics than a YouTube video made for youth.
  2. They have a clear message — by design, explainers construct experiences that are anchored to a takeaway idea, and all the content (including the specific words or images used) is shaped to be understandable, inclusive, and appropriate for the goal of the piece and audience.
  3. They tell a compelling story — information is sequenced and structured to maximize understanding and cognitive or emotional engagement with the topic, as appropriate for the goal and audience.

This style of communication can also create opportunities for creativity. This creativity can come in multiple forms, from varying camera shots or filming styles, to lyrical writing, to visual design elements that catch the eye.

Why create an explainer with the Center for Academic Innovation?

Academic Innovation is a great partner to workshop or create any type of explainer for a number of reasons:

  1. Our team has the professional expertise to help you envision, scope, design, revise, and produce an explainer in any format, including audio and visual media, graphic design, and written or oral presentation. Come work with us to develop your next asset, whether that is a video to showcase on a webpage or a presentation for a particular group.
  2. We can help you level-up your communication skills, both on- and off-camera.
  3. We can act as a mirror to provide thoughtful and constructive feedback as you workshop and experiment with ways to message and storytell about your idea, especially for an unfamiliar or particularly diverse audience.

If any of this appeals to you, please get in touch to share your inspiration and get started on a project today!

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