In recent years several debates have emerged about how to make academic research more ‘engaged’. The motivation for these debates has varied from a recognition that engagement can help increase the impact of research, to normative arguments that research needs to engage with those it seeks to help or change, and epistemological arguments that the multifaceted nature of truth necessitates the engagement of multiple perspectives.
This report will outline these debates, drawing out some of the emerging epistemological, normative and pragmatic arguments for what the Institute of Development Studies has now come to call ‘engaged excellence’. The main literature it will draw on comprises the following: the science–policy debates around Mode 1 and 2 research; debates within the philosophy of science; arguments for why a participatory action research approach is increasingly being used in the social sciences, health, social work and education; and debates about what it means to be an engaged university or scholar. It will also draw on some of the debates emerging from a push to decolonise academia, where those debates touch on issues of engagement and whose knowledge counts.
It will then consider what these arguments mean for the four pillars of engaged excellence that we have identified at IDS – delivering high-quality research; mobilising impact-orientated evidence; co-constructing knowledge; and building enduring partnerships – while emphasising their interdependence. Within these pillars, the cross-cutting themes of ethics, and teaching and learning will also be explored.