Below the Radar: An Engaged Knowledge Democracy
November 2, 2021
Review By Brian Davenport
Below the Radar is a podcast that begins many episodes by reminding listeners that it is a knowledge democracy podcast. A production of Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, the podcast claims to “encourage the meaningful exchange of ideas and information across communities” (https://www.sfu.ca/sfuwoodwards/community-engagement/Below-the-Radar.html). Although both the claim and the phrase “knowledge democracy” are lofty goals, when viewed through the lens of community engagement, Below the Radar seems to accomplish both while making a valuable contribution to both higher education community engagement and communities as a whole.
In exploring how best to define community engagement, noted community engagement scholar Marshall Welch described “activities related to an institution’s academic mission of generating, disseminating, applying, and preserving knowledge that can directly benefit external groups” (p. 38). Using this description, Below the Radar is an interesting example of community engagement. Through its existence and focus, Below the Radar is both disseminating and preserving knowledge by making a variety of ideas accessible in a way that allows for preservation beyond the time of the recorded conversation. The podcast as a whole is a wonderful example of community engagement work on the part of a higher education institution. However, the contribution of Below the Radar to the field of community engagement goes beyond serving as an example of dissemination and preservation. Throughout its more than 100 episodes are numerous explorations of how to go about and deepen the practice and thinking around engaged scholarship, or the space where “academic knowledge interacts with and is shaped by community-based knowledge” (Sandmann, Saltmarsh, & O’Meara, p. 137).
Simply sharing the knowledge of the university through a podcast could be seen as a form of community engagement. Yet, Below the Radar deeply participates in an ongoing conversation on how to continue expanding thinking related to engaged scholarship, how to “do” community engagement, and the universities’ role in society. By hearing from scholars like Timothy Eatman and Mohamed Farge (episode 121), Angela Kaida (episode 101), Barbara Holland (episode 93), and Kari Grain (episode 89), Below the Radar adds to and extends the conversation around how engaged scholarship and institutions that seek to practice and value it can continue to grow and improve in their work. At times, extending this conversation involves pushing the very boundaries of what is considered scholarship, something that is explored deeply in episode 72, when Hannah McGregor takes a deep dive into the idea of podcasting as scholarship. Additionally, Below the Radar allows for ideas that seem to be contradictory, yet further extend the ongoing dialogue around community engagement and engaged scholarship. This can be heard in the podcast’s discussion with Stuart Poyntz and Joanna Habdank who suggest that the language of engaged scholarship often communicates the “stamps of institutional authority” (episode 47, 20:30 ) while another episode hears Andrew Petter (Episode 43) using the very type of language that Poyntz and Habdank seem to critique. This contradiction is far from a weakness in the podcast, though. Instead, it allows the listener to more fully explore and consider ideas related to the work of community engagement that have yet to be settled. It is in both this breadth and depth of ideas that allows Below the Radar to make a meaningful contribution to the discourse of community engagement.
While its contribution to community engagement is both the focus of this review and my primary interest in Below the Radar, the podcast aims for something greater than contributing to community engagement. Instead, it aspires to be a part of the knowledge democracy. This is no small task. Current Co-Chair of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education , Budd Hall (2013) explained that “a knowledge democracy movement is an action-oriented formation that recognizes, gives visibility to and strengthens the knowledge created in the context of, as Marx said, people trying to ‘change the world’” (p. 9). In its ability to shine a light on the work being done in and by community, Below the Radar appears to be a part of the knowledge democracy movement that Hall described. While this may seem like an overstatement of the value that a podcast offers, as Hall further explained “neither access to information development nor community-university engagement advancements form a knowledge democracy movement by themselves, but are part of the necessary conditions for knowledge movements to gain footholds and to flourish” (p. 10). So while community-university engagement like this podcast, nor the access to information that it provides, create a knowledge democracy by themselves, Below the Radar seems to both understand and honour its role in being part of the conditions that are needed for knowledge democracies to flourish. For this, Below the Radar and the people behind it should be commended and encouraged as both the field of community engagement and the efforts to create knowledge democracies are better for the work they do.
Hall, Budd L. 2013. “Knowledge, democracy and action: An Introduction” in Knowledge, Democracy, and Action: Community-university Research Partnership in Global Perpectives, ed. Budd Hall, Edward Jackson, Rajesh Tandon, Jean-Marc Fontan, and Nirmala Lall. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Sandmann, Lorilee R., John Saltmarsh and KerryAnn O’Meara. 2019. “Creating Academic Homes for Engaged Scholars” in Building the field of higher education engagement, ed. Lorilee Sandmann and Diann O. Jones. Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
Welch, Marshall. 2016. Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs for Community Engagement. Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, Below the Radar Podcast, podcast. https://www.sfu.ca/vancity-office-community-engagement/below-the-radar-podcast.html