UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication is issuing three calls for proposals as part of its 2021 Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant program. This year, two calls for grant proposals will address timely research topics facing corporate communicators: Corporate Social Advocacy and Ethics of Care. A third special call will recruit scholars to develop online modules that will deliver lessons in activism to communication classrooms.
The Page Center, a research center in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, has funded hundreds of projects tackling many topics in the field. While research themes vary from year to year, the center consistently supports academic exploration into the understanding of principles practiced in public communication.
Visit the 2021 Call for Proposals page for more information on guidelines, terms and eligibility. All application materials are due Jan. 15, 2021.
Call for research proposals: Corporate social advocacy
“Corporate social advocacy is becoming a prominent topic in public relations scholarship,” said Holly Overton, associate professor at the University of South Carolina who is leading the CSA call. “I’m hoping to see proposals that are looking to contribute in the area of theory development.”
Publics have long expected companies to be engaged in socially responsible activities that make a contribution to communities, the environment and society. In recent years, as public expectations have shifted, companies have begun to take a more purpose-driven approach to their efforts by taking a public stance on politically charged social-justice issues.
With a continued increase in demand for companies to match their words with action, the Page Center is seeking grant proposals to contribute to the scholarly and public understanding of how companies are engaging in corporate social advocacy in various contexts.
“I think a lot of companies are trying to find better ways to engage stakeholders and to earn trust and legitimacy,” said Overton, a Penn State alumna. “There's a big expectation among consumers. They are looking to brands to take stands on issues. And so, I hope we will help companies find effective ways to do that in an authentic and ethical way.”
Call for research proposals: Ethics of care
“I think ethics of care provides a different perspective than a lot of people know,” Stephanie Madden, assistant professor at Penn State who is leading the EOC call. “It requires us to potentially think about ethics in a more care-oriented way, which will help us understand ethics in all of its forms.”
Organizations gravitate toward an ethic of justice because it is often easier and more pressing to demonstrate they followed the law and responded to a situation fairly. Ethics of care, though, requires organizations to deal with harm done to individuals at a relational level and care for the most vulnerable publics.
Public relations scholars have primarily explored an ethics of care within a crisis communication context. Tao and Kim found that an ethics of care approach was underused in organizational crisis responses as opposed to an ethic of justice.
The Page Center seeks original research that considers how ethics of care can fundamentally reshape current approaches to public relations and public communication, bridging theory and practice in a broad range of topics.
“There is an increasing recognition of a need for compassion, care and empathy,” Madden said. “I want this research to be there for people in organizations when they’re engaging the public. Are there ways we can help translate theory into guidance that will reach beyond academic audiences?”
Call for proposals: Curriculum development on activism
“The idea for this call came out of a group of activism public relations scholars who have been getting together since the summer to talk about issues,” said Madden, who is also leading the call for curriculum proposals. “There’s been a lot of movement on activism and advocacy on the research side, but this group realized there’s a pretty big gap between that and available teaching resources.”
The Page Center’s 2021 special call for curriculum aims to develop teaching modules on activism that will be shared with public relations and strategic communication faculty. The goal of this project is to create a series of lessons that can be easily adopted into public relations classrooms. While a body of academic literature continues to grow around activism and activist public relations, there are few resources available for integrating the public relations of activism into classrooms and curriculum. Faculty are invited to submit a grant proposal to develop one or more modules related to activism and public relations.
“It's always been about activism for me,” Madden said. “It's about using strategic communication and public interest issues for creating social change.”
Since its founding in 2004, the center has become an international leader in research on ethics and integrity in public communication. The center has funded more than 250 scholars and awarded nearly $900,000 in research funding. The Page/Johnson Scholar Grants are awarded annually and address a relevant issue affecting public communications. Past calls have examined digital media, "fake news," sustainability, and organizational listening, among others.