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Communicating science in higher education and research institutions: An organization communication perspective on science communication

Thorsten Schwetje ( Institute of Technology Futures , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology , Karlsruhe, Germany)
Christiane Hauser ( Institute of Technology Futures , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology , Karlsruhe, Germany)
Stefan Böschen ( HumTec , RWTH Aachen Philosophische Fakultat , Aachen, Germany)
Annette Leßmöllmann ( Institute of Technology Futures , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology , Karlsruhe, Germany)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 13 March 2020

Issue publication date: 18 August 2020

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Abstract

Purpose

The paper reports on a research project exploring the change in the organizational context of communicators and communication units in higher education and research institutions (HERIs), the importance of informal processes within their daily work and the great diversity of expectations communicators have to tackle.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on a literature review, a mixed-methods study combining expert interviews with 54 German HERI heads of communication units, an online-survey and a document analysis of organizational characteristics was conducted. Findings were validated in four focus groups.

Findings

The study illuminates the impact of organizational and operational structures of HERIs on communicators and their boundary spanning activities. Due to varying expectations of stakeholders, communicators constantly have to switch roles. Members of HERIs' executive boards affect status and working conditions for communicators in the organization.

Research limitations/implications

Interviews with other HERI actors, especially members of the executive board, are proposed to get more thorough insights into the organizational context of HERIs and the mutual expectations of different internal stakeholders.

Practical implications

Insights from the project may help HERI actors to reflect their organizational context and to identify potentially contentious structures or processes.

Originality/value

Communicating science sometimes clashes with complex organizational and operational structures. Despite the “organizational turn” in HERI research, there is a lack of data on the relation between communicators, their communication units and the larger organizational context. The exploratory study addresses this gap.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Gratefully funded by the Volkswagen Foundation

Citation

Schwetje, T., Hauser, C., Böschen, S. and Leßmöllmann, A. (2020), "Communicating science in higher education and research institutions: An organization communication perspective on science communication", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 189-205. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-06-2019-0094

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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