Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Public Relations - can it be a science in its own right?

Among its many duties, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the association of individual practitioners in the UK, are responsibilities to be involved in research.

Indeed, under its Charter it is mandated to do so.

The objects for which the Institute is incorporated shall be:
to promote the study, research and development of the practice of public
relations and publish or otherwise make available the useful results of
such study and research;

The Institute has established a Research and Development Unit to create a hub for industry and academic research.

The CIPR Research and Development Unit Working Party includes among its members Dr Sandra Oliver (Emeritus Professor), Dr Jon White (Visiting Professor), Dr Reginald Watts (Business Consultant) and Jay O'Connor (CIPR Immediate Past President).

The CIPR website page of research resources provides an insight into the extent to which, so far, its research outcomes are promoted by the CIPR and the extent to which the Institute promotes or makes available studies and commissions research on behalf of its members.

Then there is a mass of  information about Measurement and evaluation including the Measurement & Evaluation Fellowship Award in the UK (more information here); the Measurement and Evaluations toolkit and the social media version; the Valid Metrics guidelines and a page offering links to resources for measuring different sectors of PR accompanied by case studies relevant to the sector.

The Local Public Services Group is to provide members with inspiration, know-how and reassurance to actively participate in public relations activities, by exposing them to the experiences and good practice of key practitioners in the field. This group signposts third party case studies and research and papers.

There does not seem to be a reference to the Alan Rawel Academic Conference at any time in the future.

It will be interesting to see what transpires from the deliberations of Dr Sandra Oliver, Dr Jon White, Dr Reginald Watts and Jay O'Connor but I have some concerns.

Jay O'Connor suggests that the committee will 'bring together what is a significant body of knowledge about PR practice' and Reginald Watts, Chair of the Unit, says: "Together with those practitioners, consultancies and research organisations that are active in PR research, there are many practitioners and researchers with PhDs in subjects directly related to communications. My hope is that we can mobilise such members, along with others, to shape future practice and to help us to understand the changing communications environment. This is an exciting and timely undertaking by the CIPR. We are committed to bridging the gap between professional and academic research in a way that will be both creative and highly relevant to practice."

There is some need for the PR profession to acquire the confidence in its own right to work on blue sky research.

Many pure play public relations areas of interest have huge economic social and political significance and deserve the kind of attention to research that medicine has in the minds of research funders.

Some example include:

The wider nature of communication like ubiquitous internet as well as new forms of human/machine communicative interaction (like, for example, body/avata languages using the Kinect type of technologies) become the norm in human and human/machine relationships.

The extent to which we understand the drivers of relationships and the extent to which relationships affect matters such as reputation and recognition of entities (e.g. brands, companies, other institutions and machines) are poorly understood. To-date, our understanding is based on research that accepts that relationships exist now how and why they form (social sciences), are evolutionary (Psychology/evolutionary sciences) or are robotic and are not truly helpful in the reality of organisational relationship management.

In my line of interest, the significance of semantics, personal data (and the relationship between control of institutions in some form of digital democracy to control the emerging internet executive/s) are becoming significant for the profession. People offer a cloud of data about themselves and yet there is no means by which a form of vox populi democracy can challenge the owners of such data (governments, utilities and service vendors).

Value based relationship issues, where everything from corporate objectives to website meta tags affect the capability of organisations to operate without creating inherent dissonance with organisational constituents is poorly understood.

The nature of diversity and ethics in relationships are also major areas of emerging concern where we depend on education and social grooming to release value from human interest and development and yet are amazed at the capability of the dispossessed to invent and provide.

Then, again, there are the issues associated with the nature of trust in relationships. If the worlds banking system, and the government of huge swaths of the global population break down for want of of trust, surely the PR industry should be at the heart of research into trust.

Of course there is a case for having practice based research and there is a case for using and even adopting the better cases of research from other sciences but there is also a case for a public relations science in its own right.

I just hope that the Institute should consider such an ambition and be bold in its considerations.