Communicating Research as a Public Discussion

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Often phrased in terms of “societal relevance” and “societal impact,” academic researchers are increasingly expected to design projects that engage with the public and policymakers both through communicating research outputs as well as inclusion within data collection and processing. This article reports on one such engagement initiative that was, paradoxically, a response to the state of mass social isolation imposed on many in the context of the 2020 pandemic. What became known as the “PHED Commission on the Future of Health Post-COVID 19” created a virtual environment that stretched across academic and professional fields, inviting a broad range of actors to provide evidence that was archived (i.e., videoed) and published online and later turned into a written report. In discussing the “Commission,” the article highlights the lessons learned during the process, including the tensions and solutions by which to help contribute to public debates and have societal impact. While we hope that the pandemic remains an exception, we argue that it is important to see where we can benefit from the innovations developed in that moment of crisis while not ignoring the strengths of traditional research practices. Such transdisciplinary activities are, the article argues, important to knowledge that can help advance health and equity.