A Conversation with Dr. Edward Downes on “Public Interest Communication”

Dr. Edward Downes, Associate Professor in the department of Public Relations at BU COM, discusses about his paper on Public Interest Communications (PIC), its benefits and scope.   

Could you explain a little about Public Interest Communication and how you have articulated the eight considerations for the field?

Edward Downes: Public Interest Communication (PIC) is a notion of doing good. It is a relatively new concept.

The paper was not from a literature review. Rather, it was my reaction to the field. One consideration that is particularly noteworthy is that “good is a relative concept.” Everyone has a different perspective on doing good. What might be good to me need not be the same for you. I’d like to see this concept complement PR than dominate it.  A lot of the article stressed not on the field but on the partnership among many fields.

What is PIC Scholarship?

ED: PIC Scholarship has two characteristics. It does social good and it is interdisciplinary in nature. It is a totally new field. The only difference it has from PR is that it seeks social change and not mutually beneficial relationships. We in PR always talk about building relationships. Although that is greatly important, the ultimate goal is to seek social change.

Using social change to analyze a campaign is totally different from building long-term beneficial relationships. 

What inspired you to choose this field?

ED: To me, it is a perfect bridge between traditional PR and non-profit PR. Honestly, I haven’t heard about the field until my former graduate student introduced me to a recruitment process where people assess social change and PIC in different fields.  They contacted me to ask if I would do it. I stayed with them and some other people who have been doing this for two years. That was my introduction to the field.

How would PIC affect the academia?

ED: The major part of my paper focused on the fact that an academician and a practitioner work best when they work together.  It also talks about how to get along and learn from each other.

To some degree, there is a conflict when PIC is compared to Public Relations. This is such a new field that the opportunities of integrating it into our careers are quite ripe and broad. It is a form of scholarship that is relatively new even if the concepts of social change and beneficial relationships aren’t.  Also, there might be another conflict with the notion of every change being necessarily a good one. All change isn’t good. This is a conflict in the field that might come out.  I think there is a potential for misunderstanding in the academia but there is also a great potential for growth. It is a fertile route.

How is PIC scholarship different from Non-Profit PR?

ED: To me, it is a connection between traditional and Non-Profit PR. What is different here is that this field is interdisciplinary. A partnership among many fields forms PIC. To a degree, it is a political field. When you think about PIC, you must be conscious of all the activists, legal and legislative bodies who are all following PIC. It is a synergy among many. So, I see this as not one but something that compliments many different fields including Non-Profit PR.

What were the challenges that you faced during your research in this field?

ED: Mostly, I wanted to write well because I was writing for scholars. Also, I did not want it to turn into a partisan paper. I did not want it to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and I think that the field speaks to opportunities among many political philosophies. I had a holistic view about the field, or rather an interdisciplinary view.  I do see it with a potential to complement rather than to conflict. However, it was challenging to articulate it in a non-partisan manner.  I believe that in this field there is potential for tremendous good things but I also do not want it to be self-righteous in nature. Walking in this fine line is challenging indeed.

Are you planning to pursue further research on the field?

ED: Where I am right now is I am undecided. I am going to pursue research but I am very curious about three areas and this is only one among them. I wanted to pursue a Public Relations research about the Congressional Press Secretaries. I also wanted to research on the influence of social media. I do not know which one of these tracks I will follow.  Maybe, I would complement all three together. Let us see how that turns out.

What is the scope of this field in near future?

ED: The field is now expanding. This is the first edition of the first journal. It is a brand new field of inquiry. There is a lot of scope, but only if other scholars are ready to pursue it.

What is your advice to the COM Students with regards to PIC?

ED: Pursue it. It is an interesting field. If you are into social change, it can really tap into your motivation and make you excited about your work. People whom I have met in this field are often self-driven and selfless. They are satisfied because their work has a meaning to it. I do see it as interdisciplinary and it complements many other fields. I am not really a purist in this. Rather, I would believe it would integrate into multiple fields.


Sruthi Dhulipala, Staff Writer

Sruthi is a first year PR graduate student and an aspiring PR professional. Singing is her panacea from reality and completes her as a person. It is also her life’s goal to practice music therapy and promote it for the benefit of people. An ardent dreamer and a self-professed book dragon, she can never be anything but the most dedicated marvel-nerd.

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