An authoritative survey of different contexts, methodologies, and theories of applied communication
The field of Applied Communication Research (ACR) has made substantial progress over the past five decades in studying communication problems, and in making contributions to help solve them. Changes in society, human relationships, climate and the environment, and digital media have presented myriad contexts in which to apply communication theory. The Handbook of Applied Communication Research addresses a wide array of contemporary communication issues, their research implications in various contexts, and the challenges and opportunities for using communication to manage problems. This innovative work brings together the diverse perspectives of a team of notable international scholars from across disciplines.
The Handbook of Applied Communication Research includes discussion and analysis spread across two comprehensive volumes. Volume one introduces ACR, explores what is possible in the field, and examines theoretical perspectives, organizational communication, risk and crisis communication, and media, data, design, and technology. The second volume focuses on real-world communication topics such as health and education communication, legal, ethical, and policy issues, and volunteerism, social justice, and communication activism. Each chapter addresses a specific issue or concern, and discusses the choices faced by participants in the communication process. This important contribution to communication research:
* Explores how various communication contexts are best approached
* Addresses balancing scientific findings with social and cultural issues
* Discusses how and to what extent media can mitigate the effects of adverse events
* Features original findings from ongoing research programs and original communication models and frameworks
* Presents the best available research and insights on where current research and best practices should move in the future
A major addition to the body of knowledge in the field, The Handbook of Applied Communication Research is an invaluable work for advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars.
H. Dan O'Hair, Ph.D., is Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky. He served as the President of the National Communication Association, the world's largest and oldest professional association devoted to the study of communication. He has published over 100 research articles and scholarly chapters in organizational communication and risk and health communication and has authored and edited over twenty books.
Mary John O'Hair, Ed.D., is Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. She previously served as Dean of the UK College of Education and Vice-Provost and K20 Center Director at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. O'Hair has authored and co-authored numerous scholarly articles, books, and book chapters in communication, educational leadership, and teacher education.
The Promise of Applied Communication Research
H. Dan O'Hair, Mary John O'Hair, Erin B. Hester, and Sarah Geegan
Applied communication research (ACR) is a very special endeavor and it brings to bear all of the elements we value in the discovery process, while at the same time, it is focused squarely on addressing real-world problems. Represented in this two-volume book are a number of different contexts, methodologies, and theories-we value the rich heterogeneity by which participating scholars have made their contributions. In this introductory chapter, we offer some opinions on the nature of ACR and continue to argue, as we have done previously, that pursuing this type of exploration is a noble enterprise. We speculate on several of the ways that investigators and scholars approach the work of ACR, and we highlight two processes that we feel can enrich and extend the findings of applied research: (a) citizen science and (b) entrepreneurship. We conclude this first chapter by providing an overview of the chapters in Volume 1-chapters that constitute a wonderful assemblage of what is possible in the field of ACR. It is these chapters, and those in Volume 2, that support our claim of promises that only ACR can keep.
In some ways, ACR is basically a convenient term for problem-based research. Many scholars in communication have interests in issues toward problem-based research, action research, critical research, and social justice research. Terms frequently associated with applied research include approaches that are socially relevant, "scholarship that can make a difference" (Kreps, Frey, & O'Hair, 1991, p. 71) or research that is driven by "meaningful inquiry" (Plax, 1991, p. 59). O'Hair and Kreps (1990) argue that "applied researchers provide opportunities for the testing of basic theories in applied contexts.." (p. ix). Our primary assumption resides in the argument that basic and applied communication research are, and should be, interdependent. Applied research brings into use theory and methodology in order to understand how communication can solve problems. Basic research leverages applied research to offer practical accountability of the work (O'Hair, Ploeger, & Moore, 2010).
It is important to remember Kurt Lewin's famous statement: There is nothing more practical than a good theory. In a complementary fashion, Kreps et al. (1991) have argued that there is nothing more theoretical than good practice. Theory and practice are mutually informing and recursive practices. Julia Wood (2000, p. 189) appropriately argued that, "applied communication research is not bounded by domain. Its nature cannot be demarcated usefully by context. What defines and distinguishes ACR is its insistence on putting theory and research into the service of practice, and equally, of studying practices to refine theory in order to gain new understandings of how communication functions and how it might function differently, or better." ACR can provide a real-world test of the predictive validity of communication theory (O'Hair et al., 2010).
To provide additional context for where ACR has been situated in the recent past, we discuss an article by Steimel (2014), who conducted a four-decade analysis of the topics appearing in the flagship ACR journal in the field, The Journal of Applied Communication Research (JACR). Although organizational and health were consistent themes across the four decades, Steimel did find studies in subsequent decades that were addressing "contemporary communication issues of social concern" (p. 3). And while her focus was on analyses of different decades of published articles in JACR, her final conclusion was more encompassing:
Across the decades, JACR research prominently features concepts . that align closely with many of the National Communication Association's largest interest group divisions. However, the research within those concepts has evolved over the four decades not only to reflect the social issues of relevance at any given time, but also to embrace increasingly diverse and complex communication relationships (for example between individuals and organizations). The future challenges (and opportunities) of applied communication research center around continuing to embrace diverse voices, contexts, and methodologies while foregrounding theory as both a tool and outcome of applied research.
Other social science disciplines have developed robust portfolios of applied research and in very few cases have these disciplines of study withdrawn from the challenge of pressing social and economic issues confronting society. ACR and its very capable scholars can be found investigating some of the most serious conditions and circumstances that confront us. While we would not argue that ACR is preeminent or more important than other social science disciplines' work in applied contexts, we would be so bold as to offer evidence that the work of our scholars in applied contexts is as meaningful as the other disciplines and certainly as substantial as ever before.
An Eclectic Perspective on ACR
What has been learned over the past 50years, and that which is prominently highlighted by the contributions to this two-volume set, is that it is inaccurate and even inappropriate to pigeonhole research styles of those pursuing ACR. We could point to a few exemplars of prominent and consistent forms of scholarship, and will do so in the next section, but generally characterizing a researcher's tendencies is probably a risky gesture. One thing seems certain: ACR can be successfully conducted from a number of different perspectives (Kreps et al., 1991; Wood, 2000). One such perspective comes from peering into the purpose and/or context for study. In some cases, a research team typically does not conduct ACR but finds themselves in a situation where the only fruitful approach is one that is applied in nature (solving a problem). The research team in this regard may return to ACR from time to time (e.g., being asked to play a role on a grant that is wholly applied) but their primary purpose is to conduct basic research. A second type takes the opposite approach where the researcher and/or context are predominantly in the ACR domain. These are scholars who would rarely consider a research project that did not have a practical problem or challenge directly in sight. Those pursuing this applied paradigm see research as a practical endeavor, although this is not to imply that they are always pursuing the same problem. Rather, they may venture into various venues in search of solving different and interesting problems (e.g., sunscreen, water quality, hurricane warnings). Their predilection for and skills in the applied research arena seem compatible with numerous challenges facing people.
Still another way in which researchers view their role in ACR is that of studying a persistent problem. Cancer control scholars, climate change researchers, those studying various challenges of sexual harassment, and even classroom communication experts find a home in a specific context and enjoy applying communication theory in ever more nuanced ways. A more in situ perspective describes ACR that studies a specific setting such as a particular locale (New York), regions (Appalachian Mountains), countries (Palestine), or even otherworldly settings such the International Space Station. It is these investigators who become experts in the place of study and can bring to bear rich backgrounds for their studies. Still other investigators are skilled theoreticians and/or methodologists who are often sought after to join ACR teams. These scholars find these opportunities worthwhile for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the prospect to work with different people, the chance to apply the knowledge and skills that they have been building for some time, or even the opportunity to watch firsthand how basic theory and methods can be brought to bear in practical settings. Of course, for many, ACR reflects a blended type where problem, place, or space are not necessarily primary pursuits but conducting ACR is employed to sharpen research skills, have fun, work with interesting people, and make a difference in the world.
Applied Communication Research-Practice
Collections of studies and programs of research represented in this two-volume set on ACR take large steps toward improving economic development, changing lives for the better, and protecting people and property from risks and crises. ACR serves as a means that allows other processes to engage where the research can be used in actual practice. In the following sections we will discuss citizen science and entrepreneurship as promising opportunities to move ACR into action stages.
Public Participation in Scientific Research is a term advanced by Bonney et al. (2009) and Shirk et al. (2012) which examines a host of participatory research approaches, including citizen science, participatory action research, crowdsourcing, and community-based research (Eitzel et al., 2017). According to Hecker and colleagues, "[t]he long tradition of volunteer engagement in science has taken a big leap forward over the past two decades. Varied approaches of public engagement in science, public understanding of science, crowdsourcing, and community science have come together under the umbrella of citizen science. The result is a growing, global, citizen science community devoted to working together to bridge the science-society-policy interface" (Hecker et al., 2018). Even the...